I was thirteen. I knew as much as any other thirteen year old boy which was almost nothing. We were crossing the football practice field on the way to my house. My friend Jon was recently broke up with his girlfriend. “What am I going to do now?”, he said. The breakup was not his idea. He had been sullen and quiet all day. “I was really starting to like her a whole lot! Do you think I should call her again in about a week?” I started to say “Yea” but I didn’t really know and in fact I actually didn’t really care. I didn’t really know what to say so I punted and said, “Gee, I don’t know.” I didn’t know anything way back then. Jon clammed up again.
We finally get to my house and sit down at the kitchen table. My mother comes in, says ‘Hi”, and proceeds to take care of the dishes she had washed earlier. I’m talking to Jon and he really isn’t responding. My mother senses that something is wrong and asks Jon point-blank if he’s OK. He blurts out that “Nancy and I broke up with each other. She wants to see other guys.” My mother just looks at him and then she says, “Really, did you want to talk about it?” He says “Yea.” She sits down and him and her start talking. He starts talking about Nancy.
I just sat there. My hands propping up my head, my eyes going back and forth with their words. I didn’t really want to do this. I didn’t even know it but I was afraid to “go there.”
At this point an amazing thing happened. I started to see. I listened and saw that my best friend, Jon, actually had very strong feelings for Nancy. I saw that my Mom knew how to talk to him and how to listen to him. I saw my friend and I saw my Mom in a totally different light. They talked for about 40 minutes. For sure my Mom had talked to me like that before but she was my Mom, that’s what Mom’s do. I didn’t know she could talk that way with others or that it was even acceptable.
My Mom saw a need that wasn’t food, wasn’t warmth, and wasn’t security. She saw that my friend needed some solace, he needed a balm. Her words weren’t magic, in fact I can’t remember one sentence that stands out from my memory. She somehow managed to find out how he was feeling. More importantly she allowed him to vent his feelings and to validate them. She listened to HIM. She affirmed that many people have had the same feelings. She shared some of her own experiences and knowledge of boyfriend/girlfriend stories.
He still didn’t feel great, but I could tell that what my Mom had said, had made an impact on him. Finally he turned to me and said “lets go back to my house.” We left and made our way across the practice field. Jon turned to me about halfway across and said without judgement that “the way your Mom let me talk and explain myself was the way I wanted you to talk with me.” At the time I fumbled some sort a of an apology. Inside I knew he that was right. What good are your friends if they can’t lift you up or support you? But for me at that young an age, I didn’t even know what the word was for what had happened. Later I learned the word was Empathy. The word means “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another(Dictionary.com).”
My Mom showed me.
My friend told me.