Empathy makes us uniquely human and the power to imagine ourselves into the lives of others is how we feel the pain and joy of strangers near and far.
It has not been difficult to imagine myself into the lives of Ruth and Ari Schwartz. Like so many others, I have sent children to Israel for a gap year program.
My empathy runs deep. I have felt kicked in the gut and horrified. And I have cried and shared my thoughts, fears and pain online and with many others. I found it difficult to resume normal day to day business with Ezra on my mind. It somehow felt wrong and disrespectful. It made my life feel small and insignificant.
And yet, life has resumed. For me. Because no matter how deep my empathy is and how connected I feel to Ruth and Ari Schwartz, it remains their nightmare. We all feel the loss, but Ezra’s bed will only be empty in the Schwartz home. And that’s the thing about empathy. While it is a profound human capacity, it has limits and ultimately leaves the bereaved alone in their pain and loss.
And anyone who has suffered any kind of loss knows this to be true. I certainly do.
I remember a fog descending and experiencing an outer body, dissociative state which remained long after the shiva ended. People spoke to me but I didn’t hear. The world continued to turn on its axis while I felt like there wasn’t enough oxygen left for me to breath. Everything changed. And I grieved. Alone.
So no matter what we do or say, we are not Ruth and Ari Schwartz and they will remain very alone in their confrontation with their new normal. An inconsolable place my empathy can never touch. A place I can never imagine myself into.
But it’s precisely at this end, that I do the only thing left for me to do. I pray. When empathy ends, all that remains is prayer.
And so I pray for Ruth and Ari. I pray that they have the strength to endure the many painful days ahead. I pray that while the media attention wanes, the phone calls and Facebook posts taper off and they feel more alone than ever, they know I will always remember. And I pray that while the rest of the world moves on, Ruth and Ari have the strength and courage to face another day.