Historical setting: 588 C.E. Forest Primeval
Tall and pale, he flicks an orange lock of hair away from his eyes so I can’t ignore his glint of terror. It’s true. Empathy is a fearsome pain if it goes unfed.
“I need to be tougher than all that.” He says.
“Toughness Thole? Apparently empathy is a greater challenge than toughness.”
“Empathy is a weakness.”
“Yes, I guess empathy is the tricky kind of weakness that is well beyond toughness. To face it calls for nearly superhuman courage and strength, not to mention the full love of God. But you can’t escape it. You already have that gift.”
“What do you mean?”
“You just told me you have that problem with stinking sick people. If someone vomits, you vomit. If someone faints, you faint. If someone bleeds, you faint because bleeding for the bleeding is inconvenient. So maybe for you, with your seed of empathy growing as it might, you already know the agony of feeling pain with another. And empathy is only appeased by accepting the dare and acting on it. When you know of thirst, give water to the thirsty. When you know of hunger, share food. Try it. Whenever you feel a twinge of hurt for yourself take notice of another person, and recognize it as a command to do kindness.”
He doesn’t argue. In fact he says nothing. Apparently my dogmatic easy solutions have annoyed him. I take a breath; I hope I don’t vomit just now, as that would simply prove to him there is no virtue in empathy. I have a moment to find a secluded place in the woods.
Waking now, cold and wet in sweat, it is Thole, himself, who brews the tea. I recommend leaving it at a distance so I can get it myself. But he is already too near. He offers me the cup with his own risk. He assures me that if he too catches this thing I will find enough leaves left to brew another pot of this tea for him.
Thank you God for empathy, and for Thole.
As my strength returns, I do find myself brewing a pot of this magical tea for Thole. We seem to have spent several days in this wood, always cold, sometimes smoky, in darkness and in light.
On this morning strength has returned to Thole also, and when I wake I see he is already tending the work of putting out the flame and spreading the ashes as we strike camp here.
(Continues Tuesday, December 21, 2021)