My 4-year-old twins love to play “pretend house” — especially if I play along as their baby.
“You has to take a nap, OK, baby?” Jorie said to me.
Obediently, I climbed into her crib.
She piled blankets, stuffed animals, and dolls on top of me.
“Now go to sleep wif no more talking!” Jorie commanded in a voice that sounded spookily like my own.
I pretended to cry.
The twins chuckled.
“Baby, go to sleep!” Jasiel commanded.
“NO!” I shouted.
The twins burst into laughter.
I kicked my feet and pouted.
Jasiel fell to the floor she was laughing so hard. They rolled around for a minute until I announced I was scared of the dark. Jorie stood up immediately.
“Oh, baby! It’s OK!” she patted my face and kissed my forehead. “Now shh-shh. Da dark won’t hurt you.”
“I has to go to work!” announced Jasiel.
“Wait for me!” yelped Jorie.
And with a bang of the door, they were gone. I lay in Jorie’s crib, buried under toys, and tried to see the world through their eyes. I looked up at the rails of the crib and at the sunshine slanting in through the window blinds. I rolled over and scrunched myself down in the corner of the crib.
Suddenly, I felt a chilling sense of fragility, helplessness. What if my parents didn’t come back? How long would I have to wait in this crib? What if I got hungry? How would I tell them if I had pain?
I didn’t like feeling so helpless. I prefer feeling like I have everything under control, always able to take care of myself. As a competent, healthy adult, it’s easy to forget my inherent human fragility, my dependence on others.
As I lay there in the crib, I felt so…humbled. I also felt inspired to be more present, more empathetic, more fully alive to my own children and those who need me. This, I think, is the good and proper work of empathy: By placing ourselves inside the lives of others, we begin to understand how they view the world. We stop seeing them as “other.” We see them as ourselves.
When I went to Bolivia with World Vision this year, I experienced something similar. These children were not other mothers’ children. These children were MY children. That was MY daughter wearing a ragged shirt. That was MY son going hungry.
The message of the Gospel is that yes, we ARE our brother’s keeper. Yes, we ARE our neighbor. What hurts my brother hurts me. What my neighbor lacks, I can supply. If I’ve resolved anything for 2012, it’s this: to feel what others feel and not look away.
“Baby! Baby!” shouted Jasiel, bursting into the room. “We’re home, baby! We’re home!”
I smiled and held open my arms.
Laughing, they embraced me.
Are you making new year resolutions to more intentionally care for others in 2012? Start here — sponsor a child.