7 May

img_1375When I was in first grade, my mother bought me an adorable culotte dress splashed in pink and green that looked like an impressionist watercolor painting. Lovely as it was, it was probably not the best choice of clothing for a first grader. Shorts connected to a dress that zipped up the back might be fashionable, but it prevented my little arms from being able to wriggle out of it in a timely manner, especially when I needed to pee.

I think you can see where this is heading.

After two unsuccessful trips to the restroom where I nearly pulled my arms out of their sockets trying to reach the zipper, I decided to wait to relieve myself until I got home after school. Five minutes before the bell rang, a sheen of sweat broke out on my forehead. I suddenly realized I couldn’t hold it any longer. Right there in front of the entire classroom, a geyser of pee gushed out of me and formed a golden pool on the linoleum floor. I was beyond mortified. Gasps echoed around the classroom. My ears burned with shame.

Then I heard a little voice: “Poor Jessie. Oh, poor, poor Jessie.”

The classroom tittering ceased. It was Bonnie, a curly-haired girl with big brown eyes and an infectious giggle. She took my hand. “Oh, poor Jessie. I’m so sorry. It’s okay—please don’t cry.”

She took charge and alerted the teacher. All the while, she continued holding my hand, even during my embarrassment of watching the school janitor come in and shake a can of absorbent wood shavings onto the puddle. When I got home from school, I took off that urine-soaked dress and threw it in the trash.

I truly believe children are born empathetic. When they make their entrance into the world, their hearts are pure. It’s only after they watch and learn from adults that some lose the ability to be kind. For a long time now, we’ve seen so much unkindness. Hostility—even hatred—has been openly expressed from all corners of society.

Now with this Covid-19 virus, life has changed drastically for all us—probably forever. There’s been so much loss and pain—so much disappointment. And yet, there are also stories of incredible empathy and kindness demonstrated by so many in our communities. Our front line healthcare and essential workers are putting their lives at risk every day to help us survive. We have seen many in our state and local governments step up and take charge—working tirelessly to give us hope that we may get through this mess sometime soon. People are donating time and money to local food pantries. Neighbors are helping neighbors. Good deeds are happening all around us.

Call me Pollyannaish, but I believe empathy is returning. We are learning to value what is truly important: family, relationships, and most importantly, love. I believe that many of our hearts are starting to default back to the pure state we were born with. At least I hope that’s the case.

Let’s all try to be like that innocent six year-old girl who didn’t point her finger and laugh or judge—but merely took the hand of her friend and told her everything was going to be okay.

8 Responses to “Empathy”

  1. Bonnie Forman Gerstenfeld May 7, 2020 at 4:31 pm #


  2. Anna Abbey May 8, 2020 at 1:17 pm #

    Lovelovelove this message, and can relate (although mine involved throwing up). ❤️

    • Allegro non tanto May 8, 2020 at 1:19 pm #

      Aren’t children sweet? So sorry you barfed! Hope you had someone to hold your hand as well!

  3. debatterman May 8, 2020 at 3:48 pm #

    Like you, I take heart in anecdotes shining a light on the good in people during these distressing times. Doesn’t our survival as species depend on community and humanity? I just worry that it’s going to take a long time to undo the damage of the divisiveness we’re dealing with.

    • Allegro non tanto May 9, 2020 at 8:22 pm #

      I agree. We have gone so far in the wrong direction that we’re going to have to work really hard to make the necessary changes. I know we have it in us, though. We must rise up and make it better.

  4. Liz May 16, 2020 at 10:14 pm #

    OMG, Jessica. I had an almost identical experience. I was in Grade One (what we call First Grade in Canada) and I adored my teacher. I had to pee so badly but I wasn’t allowed to leave until after she had checked my work. I was lined up at her desk and just when I got to her, I couldn’t hold it any longer. I was mortified when I peed on the floor. I remember trying to make the puddle disappear by trying to spread it out with the sole of my shoe… It was winter and I walked home COLD. I remember my dad making a fuss about it.
    BTW, I posted my review of your fab book on Amazon this afternoon. I don’t see it there now… I guess they don’t post immediately….

    • Allegro non tanto May 16, 2020 at 10:17 pm #

      Thank you so much for the review! I don’t see it yet, but it often takes a couple of days. I’m glad you enjoyed the book! ❤️

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