My father is what one might call “a big softy.” He has definitely cried at Hallmark commercials. I have witnessed it first hand. When I was younger, I would laugh and ask him if he was crying. He would respond in our typical family banter with “you would too if you weren’t so cold-hearted.”
Now Poppie (as I call my father) does not really think I am cold-hearted. But I was definitely less empathetic in my younger single days. Family life has softened my heart a good bit. That is to say, I now have more empathy because of the myriad of different relationships I have with my husband, with my children, with my in-laws, etc. At moments I can even be tender-hearted. Through these relationships I now have come to feel like I identify more deeply with more nuanced aspects of love than I ever could have before. And this seems to come out in all sorts of ways.
For instance: movies. As a young person I watched some pretty intense movies, including those with lots of action, adventure and violence. Ever since becoming a mother, I CANNOT make it through a movie that includes ANY kind of violence against children. Simply not possible. The way I found this out: re-watching “Romero.”
I saw the movie “Romero” with Raul Julia in high school. (It was part of my vocational discernment to post-graduate service, in fact.). Joshua and I think so highly of Romero that our son, Oscar is named for him. When Oscar was born, a friend gave us a copy of the movie. One night we decided to re-watch it. Fairly early on, there is a scene (spoiler alert) when some armed men look into a car they have run off the road. They see inside a young boy still alive. He looks up at them, and they kill him.
Click. TV went off. I couldn’t watch anymore. Just couldn’t do it. And I was surprised by it. Without my even realizing it, I had fundamentally changed. Before being a mother, I had watched that scene without remarking on it enough to remember that it was coming up in the re-watch. As a mother, I not only couldn’t watch it. I haven’t forgotten that scene and its impact on me for the last 10 years.
In my prayer book I copied a quote that says, “Mothers are the best intercessors because they love more and hurt more.” It has certainly become true of me that I love more and hurt more since becoming a parent. And I think it comes down to empathy. The very idea of one of my children being hurt in any way turns my stomach. But the very suggestion of any mother’s child being hurt can do the very same thing.
It’s hard being a parent. We feel more deeply. We love more deeply. And we hurt more deeply. But we have also been given the grace to empathize more deeply. To more fully identify with those around us. Far from making us “big softies,” I now think it is a gift of strength and solidarity.