Empathy is defined as "The ability to understand and share the feelings of another." To me it means to feel what another person is feeling, sometimes whether we want to or not. Many times it's a good thing. I came up with this topic because I received good news about a friend I haven't seen a in a long time. I felt happy and excited for him, and at the same time, I feel the sadness of the people he's leaving behind. Then just a few moments later, Facebook reminded me that it's the birthday of a friend who passed away a few years ago. (This week is also the anniversary of his death) And for a moment I felt my grief from when he died, along with an echo of his wife's grief. Empathy is a way I understand how much people have affected the world around them. For people to still be posting "Happy Birthday, I miss you" on my friend's Facebook Wall tells me something about what lasts and what makes a difference - to paraphrase Whitney Houston, "It's so emotional, baby."
Empathy is tied up with memory for me. I can remember when I felt a certain way, and bring it back to the surface. It helps me clear up old issues, or be able to deeply listen to a friend who's suffering. Sometimes I feel that by listening and feeling what they feel, I am sharing their emotional load, which at that moment is the biggest help I can offer. I feel really rewarded by those occasions.
I've also completely lost my ability to empathize at times. When my own heart was damaged and broken, I couldn't feel anything for any of my friends. I couldn't help myself, so there was no way I could help them.
I think empathy is one of the most valuable and yet undervalued human abilities. And it's one that I'm proud to have.