On empathy…

My husband and I were talking yesterday about why two US Supreme Court decisions which have very little impact upon our lives meant so much to us both on a deeply personal level. He, being the incredibly poetic man that he is, quipped—‘you cry tears of joy because you have empathy’.

I don’t know if it is that, or simply that I am delighted for those individuals whom I adore who finally may marry whom they love and wish to spend their lives. That isn’t the case for every same-sex couple I know — in the US or elsewhere. But, it is slowly becoming a reality as we chip away at archaic notions of what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m not sure if my own beliefs surrounding the rights of LGBTQI stem from a sense of empathy or that there is simply nothing wrong with loving who you love. And, at the end of the day, as long as there is no lasting emotional or physical harm to either individual, it’s really no one else’s business.

But, what of empathy? What if we all worked harder to be a little more empathetic towards those with whom we only share differences?

Most likely, we’d find that we aren’t really that different and we share more than one characteristic. More than one ambition or hope overlaps even the most disparate pair. Or, perhaps, we simply talk about our differences using a language (or vernacular) which neither understands.

In my ‘day job’, an endless capacity for empathy pervades those who take up the difficult task of working with some of society’s ‘least desirable’ (as defined by some elite class). Typically, these are drug users, prisoners, sex workers, homeless, etc. Poverty, disease and an enduring suffering combined with a sense of hopelessness and self-loathing on unimaginable scales for most mortals greet many. Yet, in all of it, there is hope. There is acceptance. And, yes, there is love. We envision a world where we all are accepted and our rights as humans are acknowledged and upheld regardless of our individual circumstance. Human rights are human rights and they should be granted and accessible to all. That is, I don’t think anyone takes up this work without the understanding that, at the end of the day, we are all equal individuals entitled to the same opportunities and chances to fulfill our dreams. It doesn’t matter what label you attach to us; we’re all just people. We are all worthy.

Personally, I’d like to think that my own capacity for empathy helps shape all of my actions, both as an individual and in what I do for a ‘living’. I know that this isn’t the case for everyone nor is it a reality in my little utopian existence. Likewise, there is some debate about how much empathy may aide us in making the world that little bit better.

Whether its naivete, idealism or simply a pipe dream, there are moments when I am less empathetic to others, and that is something which I’ll strive to change. It may help. It may not. But, it certainly doesn’t hurt anyone to try it out.

Don’t mess with Texas women

I am a Texas woman.

There. I said it.

To my Texan brethren, I am a Yankee. Fine. I’m a Texan Yankee. Whatever.

But, I was born in Brenham, Tx, home to the finest ice cream on the planet, and descend from the men and women who defended the Alamo long before Texas was a part of the United States. There is nothing more beautiful to me than a field filled with Texas bluebonnets. Nothing. Texas, as much as it completely baffles me, is still home. And, I am proud of my family’s heritage in the history of that most enigmatic of states. The steaks do taste better. The mosquitoes are gigantic. The TexMex is the finest anywhere (of course — ‘Texas’ is right there in the name!), and the margaritas flow bigger and colder than anywhere I’ve ever been.

All of these things are now things which fill me with a sense of pride at my Texan heritage.

I lost the accent long ago (something about being 3 and sounding incredibly different to all the other kids made that a lightning-fast loss), and I talk faster than a Texas twister I’ve been told on more than one occasion. I was a vegetarian for many years to the utter disbelief of some. Once I became active and cognizant of the political sphere as an undergraduate, I became not just a {gasp} Democrat, but a god-less liberal (resulting in many a family ‘intervention’ at holidays and visits). I do not own a gun, nor do I hunt. When I still had a car, I drove a Japanese car. And, I lived far, far North of the Mason-Dixon line when I last lived in the US.

Perhaps the parts of that heritage which resonate most soundly with me, however, are the attitudes and sass of just about everyone I know there, which rival none. We like our sass as big as our trucks and hats — super sized. The two phrases in my own family which carried the most meaning were ‘Don’t mess with Texas’ and ‘Don’t cross Grandma’. (My dearest darling grandmother, Katharine, to whom I owe much of my own personality now, was the strongest, most intelligent woman I’ve ever known. And, she was Texan through and through.)

Despite the many reasons I am proud of being a Texas woman by birth, yesterday’s utter insanity in the state Senate (along with Texas politics, in general) is a big reason why I am reluctant to shout my heritage from the rooftops.

For those sleeping under rocks or completely tuned out from all news and media outlets, the Texas Senate was poised on Tuesday to pass a sweeping bill which would eliminate 37 of the 42 clinics in the state that provide abortion services to Texas women*. (They are also acting incredibly fast to enact legislation which would make it harder for poor and minority citizens to vote in elections.) This is the state whose Governor refuses to expand Medicaid services with federal funds, despite having one of the highest percentages of uninsured individuals in the country. This is also the state in which spending on family planning services across the board were cut by two-thirds in 2011. Thus, not only will Texas women be unable to access abortion services, they won’t be able to prevent unintended pregnancies to prevent the necessity of seeking such services. Social benefits are hard to come by for poor Texans given the state’s largely conservative mentality.

Despite not living there for a long, long while, as a Texas woman I’d like to thank Senator Wendy Davis for her courageous and sadly necessary attempt to thwart the insanity in the state Senate yesterday. Even if ‘dirty tactics’ by the state GOP circumvent her filibuster, she stood up for all women across Texas and we witnessed the tenacity and bravery of a woman who said ‘no more’. And, she did so with grace, dignity and quiet contemplation. She did so in the tradition of those who fought for Texas Independence at the Alamo so long ago and gave us reasons to be proud of our heritage and state.

State Senator Wendy Davis is a hero among ‘thieves’ (in this case, thieves = Texas GOP politicians), to adapt and borrow a favourite phrase. And, she stood with honour yesterday, and provides yet another reason for me to be proud to be a Texan. And, prouder still be a Texan woman.

I #StandwithWendy and all Texas women, even those with whom I disagree.

I #StandwithWendy and all Texas women, even those with whom I disagree. (Image from Sarah Baker @bakerbk)

*I don’t want to go into the whole abortion debate, which is basically impossible here. To me, it’s no one’s business but a woman’s. What she chooses to do is between her and her doctor and partner. That’s all I’m saying here.

Polar opposites

This time of year in Southern Finland, I always marvel at just how incredibly drastic the differences are between summer and winter. Just a few weeks ago it seems, we still had much snow, temps necessitated donning several layers of clothing and the sun was a thing we only glimpsed fleetingly or dreamt of.

The last week has been glorious. Truly and astoundingly glorious. This weekend, it’s hard to recall November through March at all. And, we are grateful.

There is a point in late winter—sometime around February or March—when it’s simply impossible to believe that anything at all survives here. The landscape is completely frozen, covered in half a metre or more of snow with more falling or on the way. Most trees look lonely and dead and there is not a spot of colour anywhere. (Perhaps this explains my need for outrageously garish winter garb!)

At just the right time and literally as hope is close to fading entirely, the days lengthen, the birds sing a little more loudly, and the sun appears with an ever-greater frequency. Hope returns and with it comes a burst of energy.

Here we are in the first week of June. The trees are full and green and lush, birds are everywhere and seemingly sing at all hours, the days are incredibly long and continue to stretch well into the wee hours, and the Helsinki world is stunningly beautiful and full of life.

We may not be in polar Arctic, but we are damn close. And the difference between the seasons could not be more in opposition to one another.

A photo which shows the contrast between the height of autumn and a month or so later after a substantial snowfall

A photo which shows the contrast between the height of autumn and a month or so later after a substantial snowfall