Monthly Archives: March 2011

When I was younger, I always thought empathy and sympathy were interchangeable, that this was yet another moronic quirk of the English language. But then I was introduced to Audrey Hepburn. Audrey, in Funny Face and along with Fred Astaire, taught me the difference between empathy and sympathy.

Audrey: Do you know
what the word "empathy" means?

Fred: No, I'll have to have
the beginner's course on that one.

Is it something like sympathy?

Audrey: Oh, it goes beyond sympathy.
is to understand what someone feels.
is to project your imagination
so that you actually feel
what the other person is feeling.
You put yourself
in the other person's place.

Do I make myself clear?

The lesson made for a cute exchange between Hepburn and Astaire, and it also left a lasting impression on me. I’d go on to know the difference between empathy and sympathy, but I still felt clueless. I still felt as if they were similar.

Then I was studying for my Neurobiology exam at 2:00 AM on 03/11/11. I checked my Twitter (because I really didn’t want to study) and saw that the NYTimes tweeted: NYT NEWS ALERT: Tsunami Hits Japan After 8.8 Magnitude Earthquake Off Coast (Link). At first I shrugged it off, but then I was like, “Dude, you idiot. How do you shrug off an earthquake and tsunami?” I checked the Twitter feed again for a link to more information because the tweet I read was just an alert; no one had written a story yet.

Then I spent the next 30 minutes, and intermittent minutes after that, watching reports and reading articles. Tumblr, as if on cue, erupted with support. ((I never know how to feel about social activism on Tumblr.)) A few Facebook statuses turned into emotional and moral refuges for Japan and her people. I went to bed shaken, but not because of my Neurobiology exam in 7 hours.

Then I was on spring break. I moped and dragged myself around campus because I was lazy. I read more about Japan, and I watched more about Japan. Then I checked Tumblr and read this story:

So I just had a phone call with a friend of mine who’s living in Japan. She’s living in Sendai and as you may know that’s the city that got hot [sic] the worst. Well, she’s okay and her family too so far, but she was close to tears when she called me and after she told me what happened… I’m crying too.

She said that she’s been in the middle of the street after the earthquake and when the tsunami came, together with her mother and her little brother (2 years old). The water was too fast so they had to hide in the shelter of a house but they knew that the water would rise more and more and that they had to get away from there or else they would drown. They kept yelling and somehow a man saw them from a balcony of the house they were hiding behind. Well, that man jumped down from the balcony and into the water and helped my friend and her mother and brother to get up into the house and the safety even though the water was getting stronger and stronger and making it even more impossible to stand. My friend’s mother insisted on her kids going first and then the man helped her up the balcony too.

She just turned around and he grabbed her hand to get out of the water too when a car (one of hundreds) was being washed down the street and in his direction. My friend’s mother and the other people were yelling… and he suddenly let go of her hand so that she wouldn’t get pulled into the water when the car hit and drowned him.

My friend and her family survived… thanks to a stranger who gave his life to rescue them. He could’ve stayed in the save [sic] building but instead he helped them. I was so touched when she told me her story.

I don’t know the name of this man, his story, who he was… but I want to give him a special moment in my prayers today and in the future.

He’s a true hero.

I’ll tell you something. I find myself closer to tears these days. These tears are because of empathy, not sympathy. I had sympathy for the Haitians, but I have empathy for the Japanese. I have sympathy for the homeless in Milwaukee, but I have empathy for the sex slaves in Thailand. Do you see the difference? Finally, I do.

Note: The story is very dear to me. It’s very similar to something I heard at Urbana 09 (see my blog concerning Urbana 09). Thousands of missionaries in China with no record or history to their name, only the acknowledgment of their passing. The Nameless People. Live to be forgotten. They make Christ visible, not themselves. I hope I can live to be like the man in the story and like the Nameless missionaries in China.

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.” – Albert Pine.

I’d like to share one of the most haunting memories of my life. It took place on July 7th, 2009. It was the end of Michael Jackson’s public memorial service in Los Angeles in the Staples Arena, in the space he had been rehearsing for his upcoming shows in London.

0:00 – The video clip starts after members of the Jackson family addressed the audience with closing remarks. The most touching of these came from Michael’s daughter, Paris. “I just want to say that ever since I was born, daddy has been the best father you could ever imagine . . . and I just want to say . . . that I love him so much.” It started off in a forced manner, almost. But I think you would be cold hearted to deny the integrity of the second half of her statement. It’s such a simple thing to say, but it is also the strongest thing to say at this time: “I just want to say,” is the weak introduction, but in the context of a memorial it acquires a remarkable strength; and ” . . . that I love him so much,” is raw emotion, void of rhetorical flourish. To see Paris embraced by the family afterward is only added strength to her statement. It is a love so manifest and so tangible. (Link)

0:06 – Members from the crowd begin to shout short messages of love to Michael. “We love you, Michael,” “We miss you, Michael.” It’s unrestrained affection for Michael. No one cares if they stand out from the crowd. In a sense, Michael made us comfortable enough to be uncomfortable with respect to society’s boundaries, and this is evident even in his death.

0:28 – Man, this part will always get me. Michael’s brothers approach his casket and escort their brother. I mean, unpack the symbolism in that act; it’s filled with imagery. As they begin, Michael’s band begins to play an instrumental version of Man in the Mirror. It’s haunting, heartfelt, and harrowing. The casket that sat at the front of the arena finally moves. It is Michael’s final move as protagonist. It is our final chance to bid adieu. It’s bittersweet. We don’t want Michael to leave, but this is his final curtain call, the inevitable and equalizing curtain. It is at this point that we must finally face the reality of our loss, but it is a loss we are prepared to meet. The service is a fitting memorial, honorable for such a man, and, in this, we are prepared to come to terms with our loss. This smashing of emotion is only intensified with the beautiful melody. I could literally sit at a piano and play those 10 notes for hours on end just to listen for Michael’s echo and to appreciate their simplicity and inherent beauty.

1:05 – The casket is gone. Michael is gone. All we are left with is the empty stage and photographs. The photograph and the stage function as our imagery, our remembrance of Michael through sight. The instrumental haunts and robs us with our auditory remembrance. The harmony is present, but Michael’s melody and voice is absent. It is at this point that we face reality without Michael. It is at this point that we first experience how we will experience Michael posthumously.

1:26 – The percussive clap wakes us from our sorrowful state and daze. It ushers in a more powerful image and mode of remembrance: The naked spotlight and the unhandled microphone. It is incomplete. Here is the spotlight; our attention is fixed. There is the microphone; we await the voice. Though fixed, our attention will never be satisfied. Though we wait, the voice will never come.

1:39 – The lights are dimmed, and the sensations are only intensified. I imagine that, at this point, everyone that was moving in the audience paused. It is a powerful beckoning for us to pay a final respect to this imagery of remembrance. There is the stage, the microphone, the spotlight. There is Michael, but there is not Michael. Photograph, song without vocal, and the symbolic stage: this is how we will keep Michael within our grasp.

2:42 – I always feel bad for Pastor Lucious Smith. I’m sure he didn’t want to ruin this intimate moment. Though nothing changes for nearly two minutes, it is not long enough. We want to continue to mourn, but we have mourned and remembered properly. It is time to move on.

This is one of the most haunting memories of my life. It is full of symbolism and meaningful imagery and sound. It is one of the most meaningful losses in my life. I feel so impolite and ignorant when I say that, but I would be remiss in myself to confess differently. I find so much meaning for myself and for Michael in Michael and Michael’s life. This short video clip attempts to signify the end of that era in my life. It attempts to symbolize the end of Michael Jackson, but it never will. Nothing will ever adequately present the end of Michael Jackson.