Pain and gain: Truly, empathy is bilingual

By: Maeve Coleman – Columnist, Junior

Everyone has lost something. A pair of keys, an opportunity, someone in the world they profoundly care about.

There are nearly 6,500 diverse languages in the world. So many particular ways to say the word “gone” and it will still never change what the brief, sharp word means. I was 16 years old the first time I saw what losing someone you love immensely does and continues to do to a family. The way it brings you together and tears you apart, all at once.

I’ve heard it said that everything we love and have lost comes around again in another form. When one door closes, another one opens. This past week I saw this idea in a new light.

I was standing outside a Granada disco at the wee hours of a frigid morning, waiting for the friends I was with that night. There was a girl standing a few feet away from me smoking a cigarette alone. I noticed she had a neatly scripted cursive tattoo just below her collarbone. I wanted to talk to her so I did.

I hesitantly walked up to her and pointed to her tattoo asking what it meant with a weak smile. She responded in French, so I asked again in Spanish. “El amor es eterno,” she replied: love is eternal, engraved in her pale skin in French, with the date of her mother’s death just below. I stood there and talked to her for a while longer in broken Spanish as she asked me if I had ever lost anybody I loved. The answer was yes. When my friends came out and it was time to leave, I felt like I was leaving behind a conversation I’d been waiting for a long time to have with someone I knew nothing about. I told her I was sorry and that to some degree, I understood. Before I left she smiled, gave me a hug, and said, “Tu pena es mi pena”: your pain is my pain. I will never forget it for the rest of my life.

Part of the purpose of life is to develop relationships and when those most important are ripped from your grasp, your job is to form new ones in order to celebrate and appreciate the ones lost – the hope that you’ll find someone you love as much as you loved the person you lost. Just like kindness, a simple smile, friendliness – pain is universal. No one language describes it correctly.

Grief never ends because the love for what you have lost can never be replaced. I’m starting to see that about traveling as well – the places I’ve been, the people I’ve met, the memories I’ve made will stay with me forever.

Pain, difficultly and struggles are often where our strongest memories lie. Every obstacle I have encountered while living 4,000 miles away from home – every moment I’ve been uncomfortable or homesick – I will remember vividly. Not because I am living a seemingly glamorous study abroad life in Europe, but because where I was once ignorant, I’ve now come away with a greater awareness.

It sounds strange, but to be completely honest, sometimes I am grateful for the experience of loss. I am grateful because it constantly reminds me that there is an opposite. Grateful because it not only reminds me of what I have lost, but also, what I have gained.