Friday, April 19, 2013


In many ways we are alone. We get input from our sensory organs in the form of electricity which is interpreted by our brains. Even if I am in the exact same situation as someone else, experiencing the exact same thing, I have no way of knowing if the other's brain is interpreting that experience in the same way mine is. If I see a green apple and say to you, "look at that green apple", you would look at the same object and agree that indeed it is green, but you would have no way of knowing if what my brain is telling me is "green" is actually "green". It could be that what I have learned to call green actually appears in my brain as, what you would call, red, for example. For all of us, our entire existence is experienced through the filter of our individual brains and in this way we are all alone.

Think of it this way; imagine trying to communicate to some one who has been completely deaf their whole life what its like to hear. You could use sign language to explain how the ear uses specialized organs to pick up differences in atmospheric pressure which are then changed to an electrical impulse which is then "decoded" by the brain. You could teach this deaf person everything there is to know about sound and hearing. They could earn a PhD on the subject, yet they could never understand the actual experience of hearing. And so it is with parenting.

I clearly remember people trying to tell me what being a parent is like and in my hubris I believed that I actually understood. As soon as I became a parent it was clear that I had no idea. It was like a deaf person hearing for the first time. I have been thinking about this a bit lately. I see parents with their kids and all the various problems that they face individually, and I have to realize that though I know of what the various situations may be, I have no way of knowing what it is like to experience them. 

I'd like to introduce Carmen to you. Carmen is one of my son's best friends, and sadly has been battling a rare form of cancer. She's a tough little girl and I'm always amazed to see her smiling from ear to ear despite what she's going through (as the photo of her above suggests). Surgeries, chemo-therapy, weight loss, fevers, feeding tubes and living at a hospital have unfairly become part of this sweet little girl's norm. It's heartbreaking and, as someone with kids of my own, I feel for this family - I really do. But that is about as much as I can do. Sure we attend fundraisers and buy/donate what we can, but as much as we do that for them, I think in some misguided subconscious way we do it for ourselves even more; unintentionally believing that if we give enough perhaps through some cosmic, karmic way our kids might be spared the same ordeal - which, of course, is total bullshit. Supporting someone financially or otherwise is part of feeling for someone. So I feel for them, but I can't feel with them. This is the part that troubles me because I don't want to. I know what would have to take place for that to happen and I feel guilty for it.

My brother Jared's oldest child is autistic and although this child's life is not in immediate danger his situation poses life-long challenges. Jared's youngest suffers from severe Crohn's Disease which is life threatening and life-long as well. When I think of Jared and his wife's ordeals my reaction is the same as my feelings toward  Carmen and her family; I can sympathize, but cannot, nor do I want to, empathize. This creates guilt.

The guilt isn't because I don't want my kids to suffer. Don't think for a moment that I think good parenting requires an ill child. Kids not getting cancer is a good thing. No, my guilt comes from the fact that I'm not willing to experience the trauma in order to be a better friend or brother - so that they wouldn't have to be so alone. I'm like a deaf person refusing to hear with my friends because I fear it will be too loud. My solace is that we are alone in our heads. Though its nice to have someone around that has had similar experiences, I'm not convinced that its a prerequisite for being comforted, because what we experience is internal. It exists uniquely in our own brains. So I will continue feeling for people, not necessarily with them, because really, that's all any of us can do.

-Brother Brett


  1. Along with the birth of my daughter Anabelle came the birth of a new form of empathy for the form of a connection or reconcilliation with the complexities of my own growing up, an acceptance of others (who are, in my view, someone else's Anabelle :)), and finally a fraternal association with anyone experiencing the kind of love (and anxiety) that comes along with the state of "fatherhood." It took me a couple of years to stomach movies like "The Road" or "Aliens," "War of the Worlds" or any other movie where a child is thrust into a ruthless and deadly world. That was back when my little girl was helpless and tiny, and I held onto her as tight as I could without squeezing her too much because I was afraid of dropping her. Now, though, I am less afraid...and I don't have nightmares about the apocolypse anymore. I think this is because Anabelle shows me all the time what real bravery is. When she struggles she isn't alone - and when she overcomes it she isn't alone then either. It is something I feel too, and something that makes me stronger (I just did an arial adventure course where I had to jump around and climb ridiculous shit while being suspended 100ft above the ground...i was terrified, but also thinking "so this must be what the jungle gym felt like the first time Anabelle went down the slide"). It made me feel closer to her to think of things this way. Anyway, I guess my point is that the love these parents feel for their children is precisely the feeling of not being alone. The struggle they are going through is exclusive and part of loving one another. It is a rare bond, and not particularly for everyone. I wouldn't worry about not being a part of the club, it is good of you to empathize, but also good of you to appreciate that the bonds you have are not similarly strained.

  2. So sad but so true.