Sympathy (#446)

Maybe it was because, Charlie was up until 3.30am on Saturday night tossing and turning, and sometimes jumping in his bed (as a result of which I was up even later, or earlier); or maybe it was because, 9/11on my mind—we had driven under the 450-pound American flag hung on the George Washington Bridge on our way into the Bronx and looked southwards towards the Empire State Building and all the way to Lower Manhattan—I was thinking about that day five years ago and about how Jim had been teaching a class in a building on Kennedy Boulevard in Jersey City, directly across from the Twin Towers, and a student came in and said he had seen the second plane and—–
—or maybe it was because I could see Charlie, intently bent over a puzzle he had never done before, of a rocket in outer space in 100 pieces, and I felt beyond pleased to see him busy, and peaceful, on his own as Jim cleaned out his soon-to-be-former office up at the Fordham University campus in the Bronx—

I rammed the toe of my foot straight into the metal edge at the bottom of the office door.

The first thought that came through in the midst of some loud owwwwww‘s was, how much did it hurt when Charlie banged his head and the floorboards of our old house used to shake?

The second thought was, am I stupid.

Jim insisted I run (limp) immediately into the bathroom and “get some water and soap on it!” Charlie was standing up, his eyes set and his lips pressed tightly together, his chest heaving and then he said,

“Ow. Ow. Ow. Ow!”

Other loud sounds followed. “Go wash it off. How much does it hurt?” Jim asked and then, “Well, it’s good that you’re smiling.”

I was: A stubbed and bleeding toe is certainly not pleasant to feel, but my distress was evoking an immediately, sympathetic response in Charlie who looked as if on the verge of tears. “It’s just my foot, I’ll be…..fine,” I said, and stumbled off to the nearest sink. When I returned to the office after hearing a yelled “Charlie!”, I found Charlie on his knees all but hyperventilating and Jim standing over him. “No, he just bent over,” Jim said and, grabbing a wad of Kleenex for my foot, I said, “Sense of humor, right?”

Within minutes, Jim was back to cleaning out drawers and shelves and Charlie was engrossed in the rings of Saturn on his puzzle, me seated nearby on the floor, wadded Kleenex and all. Jim appeared with a photo of Charlie in Feburary of 1998 when he was nine months old, wearing a ladybug bib and a one-piece outfit with a polar bear pattern, eyes huge and looking right at the camera, and smiling.
“Who’s that?” asked Jim.

Charlie looked up from his puzzle. “Baby.”

“It’s baby Charlie!”

Charlie raised his head briefly with a quizzical look suggestive of “don’t pull my leg,” and then went back to puzzle-business, with a quick glance in my direction (I made sure I was looking peaceful myself, swollen toe and all).

I thought of that question on the “developmental history questionnaire,” which I will paraphrase: “Does your child respond appropriately when others are in pain?”


I have always thought of “ow” and “ouch” and such words and cries of pain as the person-in-pain not only expressing what they feel, but asking for attention from others: “I say ow and you are supposed to feel bad (for me).” Charlie’s saying “ow ow ow ow” today reversed the pronouns and the meanings, as if to say “You say ow, and I feel bad that you feel bad.”

And that is what I would have to call sympathy, from the ancient Greek sym (“with; together”) and pathos (“suffering; feeling”): Feeling together.

Feeling, together.


In memoriam for all those who died on 9/11.
We remember.

2 Responses to “Sympathy (#446)”
  1. kc'smother says:

    Charlie was very concerned about his Ma ma’s toe, he is such a sweet boy, very in tune to feelings of others:) He’s awesome and I expect as he gets a little older he’ll protect his Mommy, you are is world:)

  2. vincent says:

    Kristina, Charlie continues to give us convincing reasons why we can and must open ourselves to the saints within each of us.


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