Empathy: The rope that binds us

Empathy: The rope that binds us April 8, 2011

Nathan and Elisa Bond have cancer. His cancer — stage 3 colorectal- was diagnosed in February. Hers — metastatic breast cancer — only days later. Elisa’s cancer is considered incurable. Nathan has about a 60 percent chance of recovery.

If all that wasn’t tragic enough, the young couple have an 18-month-old daughter, Sadie.

Perhaps you saw them interviewed on the Today Show earlier this week?

Here’s the disclaimer: Matt Lauer is a pro at interviewing. I’ve never really seen him biff an interview.

Until now.

For those of you who may have missed it, I transcribed some of the interview for you:
Matt: I need your help. I don’t want people at home to simply find despair in this, and I know you don’t want that either.  So where is the humanity here? Where is the piece of this where people can walk away with and take a deep breath and feel better as opposed to feeling very sorry for the two of you?

Somebody slap Matt, would you?

Where is the piece of this where people can walk away with and take a deep breath and feel better as opposed to feeling very sorry for the two of you?

I wanted to hit pause and replay over and over and over again. I was utterly gap-mouthed that a professional like Lauer would make such a completely IGNORAMOUS statement.

Where is the piece of this where people can walk away with and take a deep breath and feel better …

I have long complained about the shallow waters which our media treads — and Matt’s interview is a classic example of that.

Lemme see if I’ve gotten this straight, Matt. Nathan and Elisa have a precious baby girl that they want to see grow up. They want to be around for her first t-ball game. Her first dog. Her first trip to the zoo. Her first airplane ride.

But the odds aren’t in their favor right now. And, in fact, as Elisa told you, it’s been pretty hard caring for their precious girl in-between bouts of puking and exhaustion that comes with aggressive treatment necessary to buy them more time.

Were you listening, Lauer, when Elisa said just the other night they had to make a run to the ER because her husband spiked a high fever and as all cancer patients know fevers can be life-threatening? Have you ever had to make a trip to the ER with a baby, Lauer? Do you have any idea how exhausting that is for the average healthy parent?

No. Of course not.  You don’t have a clue. You just want to make sure that you don’t end your little 3 minute segment on a negative note. You don’t want people to go away feeling sad. That’s bad for ratings. You just want Nathan and Elisa to help you out.

Where is the piece of this where people can walk away with and take a deep breath and feel better…

As if Nathan and Elisa don’t have enough on their minds– what with trying to not die and all — now they need to help the rest of us feel better about their plight because God forbid we actually feel empathy for others.

Mark my words, people: We are drowning in shallow waters.

I understand what Lauer was getting at — even if he doesn’t. Despair is the worst of all emotions. It can rob us of life in ways that cancer never will.

Despair is the reason dead men walk.

But empathy may very well be our best emotion — it is that fiery thing that welds all our brokenness into something resembling community. It’s the rope that binds us together.

Empathy makes us dig for weeks in the rubble for that one lost soul. Empathy compels us to design the artificial limbs so that the double-amputee can walk again. Empathy mandates that we clean out that extra bedroom and offer it to the refugee, for as long as they need it. Empathy knocks us to our knees when the neighbor’s child is found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Empathy gives us the courage to clean the bedsores of the man crippled for ten years now after that awful fall from his horse. Empathy makes us get up on cold winter mornings to serve biscuits and hot coffee to those who slept fitfully on frozen ground. Empathy enables us to say to the couple with cancer — “I am praying for you. I’ll be by Tuesday to clean your house and mow your lawn so you can take Sadie to the zoo.”

As Lord Tennyson once advised: ” I must lose myself in action, lest I wither in despair.”

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  • jaz

    Thank you for saying what needs to be said.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      You’re welcome, buddy.

  • Thanks, Karen. I like the way you describe empathy, part of loving our neighbor as we love ourselves, to be sure. Very sad. Deb and I looking at this right now. Our hearts go out to them, and our prayers to God.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thanks, Ted & Deb, for opening your hearts to this family.

  • Steve Taylor

    Objectification… the disease of those who await their next fix. It is mainlining for the next hit of ME. “Don’t mess up my story with the Real You. ” Of course, Paul said it another way, “Bear one another’s burdens. ” But, oh goodness, it’s just so much more inconvient that way. And More Jesus.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      And could you spit that out in 3 minutes, please? I have a commercial to get to.

  • Sharon O

    This was written in a powerful way and the video was very moving. I will pray for this little couple and their precious baby. What a story.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Sharon. Can you imagine being the parents of this young couple? Watching your son or daughter struggle like this? We need to pray for those parents too.

  • Dean

    Thank you, Karen. Just sitting here with tears running down my face. How did we get here? Jesus, please lead us.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Those tears?
      That’s the steel melting, binding.

  • Steve Taylor

    yeah, yeah, inconvenient … sigh

  • How sad for this couple! I’ve never been a Matt Lauer fan. Prayers for this poor couple and their child.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Helps put a lot of things in perspective, doesn’t it Gary?
      Sometimes when we think it can’t get any worse, it always does. Especially for those of us in the journalism field.

  • This has been my frustration with morning shows for so many years! “How can we make a happy ending? How can we sitcomify every last story? How can we take the edge off of things that are just plain awful so our pampered, spoiled viewers don’t choke on their coffee and danish?”
    Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Sitcomfy — Perfect.

      Is it any wonder we are so ill-prepared for life? We think it’s supposed to look like TV.

  • I’m writing this just before 9 PM after coming home from my Operation Nightwatch worship. For those of us in the dying mainline church, the lectionary gospel text for today was is John 11. Martha and Mary ask the identical question of Jesus: WHERE WERE YOU???? i Did something different, though. I read the text as I’d want them said to be believable in a play before an audience. Very different from how I’ve ever heard it read or spoken in church.

    After we’ve prayed and screamed our lungs out, there is something else we can do. Call the American Red Cross and schedule an appointment to become an apheresis donor of platelets. Many cancer patients desperately need platelelts because chemotherapy detroys their own.

    After their first or second donations, most donors’ bodies can actually supply a triple unit of platelets. One donor can help three people with a gift of life they can get no other way. Platelets are precious. Once they leave the donor’s body, they have a life expectancy of five days, the first two of which are taken up by testing.

    So the little guys have three days in which to give life. Which means thay can barely be stored at all. Which means there ain’t no stockpiling of them. Which means somebody’s life might well hang in the balance of what I’ll give away again twelve hours from now.

    Platelets are like love. The more we give away, the more we have. And one day, someday, perahps sooner than we know, each of us may depend on someone else to return the favor. As these little guys leave my body, I pray for who will receive them. I know no names. God knows. I pray God gives them life.

    Jesus said, “I am the resurrection. And the life.”

    Life. That’s all I need to know. Amen.

    • Debbie

      Very moving AF Roger.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      I didn’t know all that Roger. About the blood stuff, I mean. This is a good word. You should call Matt and tell him to do the same thing!