They do not mention in antenatal classes, that along with the hormones and the baby blues and the night feeds and the spousal bickering, comes a wave of empathy. And it never goes away.
There is some pretty heart-breaking stuff going on in the world in the moment. And every image of families who have lost everything being treated like an unwanted infestation of bed bugs, reveals the brutality of the world to me with a clarity I have not felt since I was learning it for the first time, as a child.
Since then I’ve become hardened to it, sadly habituated to desperation. There is a cave in Yorkshire where everyday items are hung up to calcify in a stream of hard limestone water. Things literally turn to stone. And if hearts could be hung up on that ledge and left to accumulate the gritty deposits of every unbearable sadness that washed over them, then they too would petrify.
Children see faces and recognise them as their own. A stony heart learns to distinguish. Faces are distanced with labels: migrants, refugees, Syrians, Libyans, Eritreans. My heart was no different: it hardened.
Then I had children, and the limestone dissolved, partially at least. And there they were, those faces, real people again. Maybe some people never let their heart’s calcify in the first place, the saints and the suicidal.
Maybe some mothers keep the merciful distance that allows them to see the woefully bereft as other, and somehow deserving of a different lot in life. I’d guess that a lot, like me, are overwhelmed. There’s wonder in seeing the world through the eyes of a child, but there is also terror, fear of death, and empathy that makes the ten’o’clock news unwatchable.
I spent most of my twenties in what now seems a whirl of untrammelled egotism.
And now, when everything I see makes me want to act, I am busier than ever before and feel utterly powerless. What can we do, fellow parents, to try to help in any way we can?
I don’t know, but I’d welcome any ideas.