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Empathy at three

Yesterday afternoon, our three year old grandson, who I’ll call Eliza because I’ve heard people have noticed a creep on the Internet recently, played with “Amos,” a 2.5yo child he had never met before. Amos is a sweet, fun child who was eager to join in. Eliza turned three a few days ago, so there was a noticeable age difference but not a huge gap. They played for hours out on the lawn, along with Amos’ wonderfully sociable and kind 6yo sister. It gave me full-body memories of watching our children play with their cousins on the very same lawn. There aren’t a lot of stretches when I’d say I was happy without adding some type of qualifier. Yesterday earned no qualifiers

Then, after maybe four hours of play, Amos swung a bubble wand and accidentally hit Eliza in the head with it. It’s a foot-long light plastic tube with a long slit in it, and Amos is only 2.5, so there was no damage, no mark, no blame. But, still, no one likes being beaned, especially by surprise.

Eliza started to make the quivering face of a child about to cry, but quickly realized what had happened. You could see him struggle not to cry. His mom — who was born empathetic — took him into the hammock where she was lying down and snuggled him. He spooned so she wouldn’t see that he was still stifling tears. But I could see. And his mom of course could tell. And so could Amos, who started getting upset because Eliza was.

Now, I’m Eliza’s grandparent and he and I are very close in both senses of the word. So I am undoubtedly one of the two most biased people in the world when it comes to him. On the other hand, I have the joy of knowing him well. And I am certain that Eliza was holding back the display of his emotions because he did not want to upset Amos.

I think we often overrate empathy. But not always. And what Eliza exhibited was not just empathy. It was empathy for the person who accidentally hurt him. It was empathy rising above his own contrary feelings. It was empathy in the moment, without pause, that helped the object of that empathy, Amos. It was empathy that could not be expressed as empathy .

So why did I wake up at 2:30 this morning and weep?

One Response to “Empathy at three”

  1. Touching. A nice piece.


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