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Oct 26 2011

Pitiless, Fire-breathing Loving Kindness…on Facebook?

By at 10:56 am

Photo by Alexandra Huddleston for The New York Times

Facebook is the equivalent of talking by the water-cooler for those who work at home (or agoraphobes): type in your password to see what people are talking about.  And so that’s how I know that a lot of you apparently like talking about terrible things.

“You’ve GOT to read this” was the basic gist of the eight or nine wall postings and forwards I received of Emily Rapp’s well-written piece in the New York Times. In the piece, Rapp told the story of being a “dragon mother” – that is, a mother of a fatally ill son with Tay-Sachs whose time on this earth is limited to a handful of years at best. As parents, we all know that no amount of time would be enough, and in knowing that, Rapp’s family’s fate is even more horrifically cruel.

After seeing the fifth Facebook post, I read Rapp’s piece and felt sick. It made my stomach turn with pity and fear, two emotions that I admit find singularly unpleasant. I don’t like feeling pity because I can’t shake the feeling that it implies that I somehow, even implicitly, deem myself “better” than they are, or more fortunate.  There is an element of condescension, I find, in pity, but even more so in our ability to exit from the situation we pity with such ease compared to those who are suffering. It’s like watching a TV show about famine and then turning it off, saying, “That’s awful” and going out to meet your friends for dinner. And to finish reading this piece and hug my healthy baby tighter, as though to say, “I appreciate you more after having seen someone else’s suffering.” That felt  cruel, somehow, to me.

I am not better than this woman – if anything, I am worse in so many ways — but I am indescribably more fortunate. I savor my children’s faces each morning I am with them, but do so doubly because it is not “normal” for me. Thanks to my divorce, our “normal” is different from other families. I don’t get to spend every birthday or every vacation with my boys.

And yet, despite or perhaps because of my sorrow at the seesaw of custody and my boys leaving and coming, leaving and coming, I savor them more perhaps than I would have otherwise. I was blessed with an unexpected daughter from an unexpected second marriage, and because of knowing the vast emptiness I had faced without her, I savor her more than perhaps I would have otherwise. I am proprietary about all of their time. I don’t want to waste any of it. Read the rest of this entry →

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