A storied college quarterback comes up short in the national championship game and is crestfallen.
Afterward, at a somber gathering of family and friends, he sits, silent and dejected. Everybody knows instinctively to give him space. Except Noni. Her special needs explain her oblivion as she bolts his way, squeezes in right next to him, and begins rubbing his back.
"Aww, Kevin," she comforts her cousin, sliding closer, laying her head on his shoulder. "Aww, Kev," she sways, running her fingers through his hair.
No prodding will budge her. "I hate to admit it," he looks up, “but this actually feels good.”
A magnetic moment connecting two incomparable cousins, both gifted, one in athletics, the other in empathy. In this moment, she’s the only one who can breach his orbit with her tenderness, just what he needs.
After losing in yesterday's Super Bowl, another young quarterback aches for empathy during a press conference devoid of it. Pushed repeatedly to put into words his disappointment, Cam Newton could muster few syllables.
The answer, though, is written all over his face, as the press presses on.
Deeply rooted in our brains and bodies, empathy defines our humanity within. Our daughter may struggle with cognitive and motor skills, but she’s got empathy down pat, true of many of her friends with intellectual disabilities.
She watches the news and feels bad when someone is injured in a car crash or fire: “Oh no, someone got hurt.”
She loves the Weather Channel, but winces to hear about tornadoes or hurricanes: “Watch out, everybody. Be careful. Please.”
On the other extreme, she literally jumps with joy for Wheel of Fortune contestants who solve puzzles and win fabulous trips.
She cheers on her Special Olympics competitors, as they pass her up on the cycling course.
If you’re happy, she’s happy. If you’re sad, she feels it too.
Most agree the capacity for empathy seems to be innate, but nurturing it helps. Much is written about how to raise children to have empathy for others, including kids with differences.
I’ve learned that if you hang around them, it can rub off on you.