Quasi-Empathetic

Confession time:

I cry every single time that I watch The Hunchback of Notre Dame. . .

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Smile while you can.

and it is not because it is the most underrated Disney movie of all time. What truly gets me in the film is the scene during the festival of fools. My main man Quasi is stoked to finally be accepted by his peers. He even gets crowned KING – but unlike most movies, this is not an altruistic act from the crowd. He is only crowned because they believe that he has the most hideous mask; however, one guard in the crowd thinks it is a good idea to throw a tomato at Quasimodo. Apparently, everyone attending the festival is an asshole and joins in on the humiliation. And although I know what will happen each and every time I watch this scene, the tears remain consistent.

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Imagine longer hair and you have me 25 minutes into the Hunchback of Notre Dame.

I used to always be a bit embarrassed by my reaction. After all, I was crying over a fictional character going through a fictitious experience – yet now I know there is a deeper reason. It is not Quasimodo that causes me to cry (for he really doesn’t want to hurt me, he really doesn’t want to see me cry) – it is a testament to the animators’ ability to tell a story, and my own character. To quote the man behind my tears, Victor Hugo once said, “Those who do not weep, do not see.” I suppose that while watching The Hunchback of Notre Dame, I submerge myself into the film – I am not watching, I am seeing. Although the two seem similar, they are actually quite different:

Watching –  look at or observe attentively, typically over a period of time.

Seeing – be or become aware of something from observation or from a written or other visual source.

Unlike watching, seeing involves more activity. While watching, information stops once retained. Watching is a passive act. With seeing, information that is retained becomes processed, and it is through this process that connections can be made, allowing for empathy.

Up until recently, The Hunchback of Notre Dame would be the only time anything on screen would move me to tears. I did not cry as Mufasa died nor did I shed a single tear in Titanic – only Quasimodo resonated with me, he not only rang the bells of Notre Dame, but the bells of my heart. However, within the past two years, this was no longer the case. My eyes were like dynamites, ready to go off at any second. Here are some recent examples:

  1. Inside Out – as Bing Bong acts as a martyr and instructs Joy to “take Riley to the moon for him.”
  2. Community – “Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas,” in which Abed envisions the entire study group as stop motion to cope with his absent mother.
  3. Queer Eye – every single time one of the participants revealed their new transformation and then said goodbye to the Fab Five.
  4. Forrest Gump – Forrest discovers that he has a son and immediately asks if he is “smart.”

These tears are not always a result of sadness. They stem from compassion (and typically cartoons). Yet this epiphany did not enter my mind until recently (ironically, this involved real people).

During my visit to the Georgia Aquarium, I watched a Dolphin Show. There was a segment in which one of the trainers had a child from the audience perform in the show. A crowd of 200+ people watched as a ten year old boy “trained” a dolphin. As the boy instructed the dolphin, we all saw the trainer discretely send signals to the dolphin – however, the entire crowd cheered for the boy. In that moment, all of us became united under a single cause: to make the boy believe. Yes, this is incredibly corny, but against my better judgement, I found myself tearing. I immediately tried to hide my tears – what was I crying for? When did I become such a baby?

After wracking my brain for some odd moments, a new question emerged: Why was I criticizing myself for experiencing the most heightened form of compassion?

Empathy.

In that moment, I was moved at how the entire crowd was able to function as a collective just to make one little boy – that none of us knew – believe that he was able to control dolphins. How absurd. How spectacular. How magical.

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Laverne illustrating the concept of watching from her speech at the cathedral (1996).

We are constantly told that there is no use in crying over spilled milk, and let’s not forget that it is banned from basseball as well. Big girls don’t cry (thanks Fergie). Boys don’t cry. However, to fully invest yourself into the life of someone else, real or imagined, is an incredible gift. So I say, crybabies, rejoiceth! In those tear-jerking moments, we stop watching, and we tear down the wall that we build to separate ourselves from others – after all, take it from Laverne, “Life’s not a spectator sport. If watchin’ is all you’re gonna do, then you’re gonna watch your life go by without ya.

 

 

Kindness’ Legacy

We were discussing legacies in our English class, so our English teacher accordingly asked us what legacy we wanted to leave behind. I half-listened to the responses because most of them involved being rich or becoming famous – things that did not really interest me. I also half-listened because my anxiety began to drown out voices. My response was way different. Mine did not align with everyone else. Once again I somehow managed to make myself the odd one out. I had two options, share what I truly wrote, or lie and appease my peers. I went with option A, and I regretted it faster than the time that I decided to cut my beautiful prom dress so that I could wear it during all the times that I would go clubbing (currently at a grand total of 1 time, and by that time, the dress was discarded).

I read my answer, “I want to save someone.”

She, the girl who found amusement reminding me that I did not quite fit in, laughed. She snarled her lips: “Who. Does. She. Think. She. Can. Save?”  The mere thought of me having the audacity to think that I could assist another human being caused her to laugh: “Her?” An echo of laughter followed hers, so I tried to clarify. I did not mean physically save someone the way that a doctor, nurse, firefighter, or police officer would – although I do not see how that would be amusing. I meant, emotionally and mentally. I meant that I wanted to be the person that could help someone else. I wanted to provide someone with the proper tools and support so that they could make a difference in their life to achieve their potential. I meant that I wanted to be someone who would hear a student say that for their legacy, they wanted to save someone, and I would commend them. I would protect them from any mockery because I know that children can be cruel. I would uplift them because I know that, although the bully might forget their actions, their victim will replay it over and over in their mind until they have twisted it enough to believe that they actually deserved it.

During Senior year, she was going through a rough patch. She asked me for help with something, and I remember that my gut told me to deny her. I remember that so vividly, the anger swelling up my bones, the burning in my throat, but I also remember going against my gut. I remember agreeing to help her. I remember helping her. I remember that she never apologized for the incident. I do not remember what she needed help with, but I do remember that I certainly did not regret helping her because it taught me a few things.

She probably does not even remember either event that I just discussed, but that is okay. That is actually the point. I believe that we should all help one another in anyway that we can. We are all existing and experiencing this life at the same time, so shouldn’t we

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I took this during the Coney Island Mermaid Parade two years ago, and I imagine this is Kindness in human form.

try to help make it easier for one another? It doesn’t have to be some grand gesture, like a massive donation to charity (although those are certainly always appreciated). In fact, smaller deeds are preferred in my book because those are the ones that we often do without thinking – they are often impulsive. When driven by impulse, we have no ulterior motives, we are genuine. Think about the time where you saw someone with their hands full, struggling to open the door, and you decided to hold the door open for them. The person most likely thanked you enthusiastically. Or what about a time when you were driving yet you ushered a pedestrian to cross – do you ever realize how incredibly thankful they seem as they raise their hand, smile, and shimmy across the street? I’ve always find these moments bittersweet for it is sad that these gestures, they cannot even be called gestures because they are too small to be considered one, interactions show how surprised we are when kindness is presented to us. We show immense gratitude to things that seem like common courtesy because we have somehow found ourselves in a self-centered society.

That needs to change.

We can start a ripple effect – it is not about receiving credit for helping, it is about igniting the desire to help others. Kindness is the smartest investment that you can make. At first it may take a while to increase, but after purchasing multiple stocks, you will find that you are rich. Yet it does not only affect you. The beautiful thing about kindness is that it influences other investors and spreads like wildfire.