I’m in love with words – how they sound, what they mean and the uncountable shades of meaning they contain.
Sympathy is the word I’m thinking of today. I’m not going to a dictionary – these are ways I see the use of the word.
To agree with some one’s opinions or feelings is to be “in sympathy” with them. When tuning my guitar, sometimes other strings vibrate “in sympathy” or agreement in tone with the one plucked. In an art sense, two lines with the same curves or angles are said to be “in sympathy” with one another.
Now enter the conundrum: In human relationships we offer our sympathy to a neighbor or friend who has gone through a traumatic experience - trying to say, I care, or I want to help. I always thought it was the kind, caring thing to do. Just recently, I found out what it’s like to be on the receiving end of this sympathy. I was surprised at my reaction. I hated it!
Recently, in a novel I was reading, the main character has had a series of miscarriages. She began avoiding friends because she couldn’t stand any more expressions of their sympathy. Each expression of sympathy from a friend dredged up the pain all over again when she was trying to forget the incident and go on with life. That’s what I was doing too. I stayed away from people so I wouldn’t have to dredge up all the crud to explain it and be polite and thankful for their expression of sympathy. A close relative is experiencing the same avoidance of people who want to express sympathy for the coming elimination of her job of nearly 12 years..
Our culture says it’s the caring thing to do – to express sympathy. I’ve always done that.
Now, I will try to find another way to express sympathy and caring. Maybe just a friendly wave, or a chat about something entirely off the painful subject? If the person wants to talk about the incident, they will. How do you handle expressions of sympathy? Have you ever been on the receiving end until your reaction was “Enough Already”?