MerriamWebster.com defines compassion as a sympathetic consciousness of others’ distress together with a desire to alleviate it. Empathy is defined as the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another. I showed neither compassion nor empathy when my mother fell in the shopping store parking lot.
As I turn for my mother’s response to a casual conversation, I find her on the cement floor. My mother, in her stylish clothes and makeup, could not get up. Certain situations trigger a kind of primal throw back into a world of harsh Brooklyn accents, Jewish guilt and a lot of screaming.
Instead of asking if my mother was okay, I yell, in a shrill shriek that only comes when I am truly agitated, “Oh my God!!! Memories of my childhood” a few times so that everyone could turn and stare at us at least once to which my mother responds “Oh, please!!! I only fell once when you were little. Once!!” to which I counter argue “It was not once mom! It was several times right there in the middle of 86th street!”
It continued like this for a while with my mother insisting that she only fell once and that she could not be the source of any traumatic, emotional scarring. Mind you, my mother is still on the floor gripping the shopping cart like a life line. I eventually help her up, but instead of mustering enough empathy to ask “mom, are you okay?” I aggressively ask why she would choose to wear high heeled shoes on a shopping day.
Acting upon my own internal fear, my response was not reflective of the deep love and concern that I have for my mom. It was not compassionate or empathetic or even pleasant.
Mary C Lamia writes that “there are times when a past fear might re-emerge, even though the present situation does not truly warrant the need to be afraid. Although you may intellectually know that you are safe, your brain automatically prepares you for the worst…”1
So, I guess compassion was replaced, at least temporarily, by fear. Empathy replaced by mental preparation for the worst. It makes sense because in the world of Jewish culture as I know it, we are always preparing for the worst. From an extra jacket to a few granola bars thrown into a purse, fear can be a strong motivator of feelings, words and action. If we are lucky enough, fear forms but a small part of our childhood memories. Hopefully, we remember laughter, kindness, warmth, love and fun. Of these I am grateful to say that I have many. One of the best memories I have from childhood is the simplest. It was the day my dad taught me how to make pizza out of English muffins. I thought my dad was some kind of culinary genius. My mom would cook almost every night making beautiful, well balanced meals, but the English muffin pizzas stand out as a winner. I still make English muffin pizzas and find them to be a quick dinner for many clients and an easy snack for kids to make on their own. With a few simple substitutions, the English muffins of my childhood have become a healthy mealtime staple.
Quick Dinner English Muffin Pizzas
Ezekiel sprouted English muffins
Organic tomato sauce
Organic shredded mozzarella
Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Slice muffins in half and lightly toast
Line a baking tray with foil and place toasted muffins on top
Spoon sauce and sprinkle cheese on top
Bake until cheese melts to your desired consistency
Add any fresh vegetable like spinach, onions or mushrooms
You can also add antibiotic free sliced beef, turkey or soy “pepperoni”
Adina Kelman, C.H.C., A.A.D.P
1The Complexity of Fear
Are you experiencing anxiety, or is it fear? Post published by Mary C Lamia Ph.D. on Dec 15, 2011 in Intense Emotions and Strong Feelings