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ANOTHER DAY IN THE COUNTRY: Feeling empathy

© Another Day in the Country

This morning, I got up, made myself my usual breakfast (eggs and toast), and checked the weather forecast on my phone to see how many layers of clothing it would be wise to wear today.

“Sixty degrees, briefly,” it said, “later this afternoon.”

That meant I would wear fleece again — my staple during these winter months. I started to say, “I love fleece,” and I do — for its soft coziness, its cuddle-worthy warmth, but there’s one thing I don’t like about it. It picks up everything.

This morning’s garment I’d worn briefly before and in the early morning light I could see more than stray strands of hay — evidently garnered while I was gathering eggs. There was cat hair on the lower portion of my shirt where Skeeter had made herself briefly comfortable. There were cobwebs and old dried leaves on the back elbows where I’d leaned into something.

Everything sticks to fleece (as I’ve complained to you before), and when you try to dislodge it with anything efficient like a lint roller or a clothes brush, the fleece just thumbs its preverbal nose at you. Suddenly, I could empathize with sheep.

Which reminded me of long ago when my father tried raising sheep half a mile west and 3 miles south of Ramona. Unfortunately, Dad had just gotten a small flock established when he became convinced that he needed to become a minister which meant we left the sheep behind that winter and moved to Lincoln, Nebraska, where Dad went to college.

Every summer, we’d come back to the farm which my Uncle — who lived down the road from us — was “watching out for” in our absence. When we came home that first summer, Dad was so disgusted, “Look at those sheep!” he raged, “Do they look cared for?”

They didn’t. Their wool was a mess, according to my Dad. They’d been left to forage where they weren’t supposed to be, evidently. Fences hadn’t been repaired. Poor sheep.

As a child I couldn’t really empathize with the sheep very well, except I did get tangles in my hair and I knew how uncomfortable it was to get them combed out. Once, I’d even gotten gum tangled in my tresses and Mom just had to cut it out.

The sheep were sheered, too. Dad sold them before he went back for his second year of college.

There’s a series on Netflix that Jess and I have been watching called “Amend,” about the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. I must admit that I’ve paid very little attention to the constitution through the years of my life — let alone the amendments. I still couldn’t recite them to you—even though they very much affect my life.

How lax of me! But, I’m like a lot of good American citizens, just taking things mostly for granted. In this series, I was being called to exercise empathy, of all things.

I was also reminded that the 14th Amendment actually gave me rights as a woman to be an equal citizen to pursue life the same as the men I know. It also gives rights to a whole bunch of classifications of folk through the gamut of skin tones, ethnicities and alphabet letters. This equality tends to often give the ancestors of those who considered themselves the “original founders of our great nation” consternation, unwillingness and fear, about sharing, equally, “under the law.”

I can understand their fear. I’ve felt it. I can empathize, for instance with any ethnic person who realizes their look, their accent, their origins are different, thus feared, in a group where everyone else looks pretty much the same and grew up within community codes of acceptability.

I know what it feels like to be viewed as an “outsider.” I’ve felt the bullying of men attempting to “keep you in your place,” as a woman or as an “upstart” or a “move in” or that “girl” from California.

Actually, those attitudes that I got the brunt of were petty and fleeting and mostly ignored. If I stopped and took a deep breath, I could, in a way, empathize with that fear of change happening, even in Ramona.

Are we always forced into change? Is there a way for us to welcome different circumstances, new understanding, acknowledging the contribution, for instance, of the new face in our community even though they may not meet our usual understanding of “normal”? Can we give them a chance, get to know them, maybe even learn something, include them, and share resources?

My ancestors, who came from Germany, were new in this area once upon a time, when they brought their hardworking, clever, dogmatic origins with them to a new country.

Richard’s ancestors came from Korea, bringing me food names I have trouble pronouncing, patient steadfastness, quiet endurance, and a precious grandchild. My friend, Anon, came from India with gold coins sewn into his jacket, a bright mind, a rambunctious spirit and taught me to make dal.

From all of these and more I learned empathy and understanding. It wasn’t always easy!

Every decade the look of our country changes because someone new has come, even though we may not see them in Kansas, and they bring with them customs, culture, hope that all of our dreams may have a chance to come true in this magical place called America where we are all equal citizens, thanks to clarification by the 14th Amendment, on another day in the country.

Last modified March 11, 2021

 

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