For the majority of my twenty-nine years, I have considered myself to be an extremely sensitive person. I wear my heart on my sleeve in full view, and it doesn’t take much to hurt my feelings or bruise my ego. I take things very personally, and I feel emotions very strongly. As a child, I would cry for days if someone accidentally hit a deer on the road, or if I saw a story on the news involving violence. I had to avoid certain movies like Charlotte’s Web and Where the Red Fern Grows, because I couldn’t handle the sadness. I would literally cry for days.
As an adult, I am still this way. It doesn’t take much to crush my wounded soul, to deflate my sails. I’ve gotten good at hiding my emotions behind a wall of seemingly cold aloofness; it took years to develop that wall, and it would take a lot for it to come crashing down – but those that know me well know that I’m hiding an ocean of sensitivity. Sometimes I feel like May in the book The Secret Life of Bees – like I could write down every single little thing I see that hurts me, that causes me to feel guilt, or anguish, or sadness, or sympathy, empathy, or anger – and stuff each one into walls made of stone to store my grief. I feel everything, and acutely.
In the past, friends, lovers, and family have told me that this extreme sensitivity is a gift, that it allows me to be truly compassionate, intuitive, and kind. All of those things I suppose are true, but I haven’t always, or even often, seen it as a gift. Mostly I’ve seen it as a curse. I tend to dwell on things that cause me pain, that cause others pain. I literally cannot stand to bear the weight of knowing someone is suffering. I feel I have to act. I reach out to people knowing full well I cannot always help them. I forgive those who have wronged me easily and do it over and over again, despite knowing I shouldn’t. I trust people who are not trustworthy, and I give my whole heart to those who do not reciprocate. I could not bear to live any other way. And yet, this sensitivity has caused me a lot of grief.
One of the things I consider a definite con to having this hyper-sensitivity is that I haven’t been able to develop a hard-candy shell, so to speak, about the various goings-on in the world. I am not at all desensitized to the things that most people are desensitized to. I never have been. Violence, prejudice, suffering – those things always affect me. I cannot turn away from them, or feel apathetic about them. Show me a tragedy and I will show you tears every time. I’ve never been able to “turn it off” as others can. I find myself still talking about injustices long after I know people want me to stop talking, not able to acknowledge that my passions are their annoyance.
The past week’s tumultuous events in my hometown of Athens, Georgia, is what has got me thinking about this particular topic. You may have seen it on the news. A local man from an impoverished community, who had only been out of prison for a year and a half (he was incarcerated some 12 years ago for armed robbery), carjacked a local woman, and when apprehended, shot two police officers and one civilian. One of the police officers died on the scene, and the other was seriously wounded (but is recovering). The next few days was a manhunt of epic proportions, as the suspect managed to elude police time and time again, hiding in plain sight, dodging every effort to capture him in a modern day game of cat and mouse. He was being aided and hidden by various friends and family members all along, according to most sources. He even managed to update his iPhone while he was on the lam.
Meanwhile, as all of this was taking place, an epic race/class war broke out in the Athens community, mainly taking place on Facebook and a few local news websites/publications. On one website in particular, members of the black and white communities verbally battered each other using the most horrendous of racial epithets, slang, and insults. People came out in support of the suspect, claiming that killing a cop was an honorable act and welcomed vengeance for a variety of wrongs. Others suggested the suspect should be lynched. The only thing that anyone seemed to agree on was that ours was a city sharply divided. Citizens of Athens, Georgia, like to think they are progressive, liberal, free-thinking people. We’re a college town. We have a Farmers Market! R.E.M. is from here! How could we ever be vengeful, prejudiced bigots? When I mentioned that the constant racism being displayed all over my feed was unacceptable, a (former) Facebook friend of mine called me “stupid” and then sent me a private message telling me I was a “cunt” and threatening violence. Similar things happened elsewhere. For four days straight, various law enforcement agencies and media publications had to remind citizens to stop fighting each other and keep their eye on the bigger picture – the suspect at large and the slain police officer, who left behind a 5-year-old daughter and a 2-year-old son. The madness finally ended with the suspect surrendering on live television, broadcast on all local channels, with 5 hostages in tow.
After he was handcuffed, in a shocking moment of kindness, the GBI officers stopped to brush fire ants off of the suspect’s chest, and I lost it.
After four days of hearing nothing but the most horrible racist statements from one side, and people vehemently defending a murderer on the other, just seeing a GBI agent show a little compassion to someone that may not have even deserved it, was enough to make me weep.
For many in my town, this whole dramatic incident was just a good excuse to get on the Faceybooks and have a race/class war, to get out pent-up aggression and say the things they wouldn’t normally say in mixed company. They hid behind their anger and their outrage and their grief and used it as an excuse for hatemongering. The other side of the argument used the incident as a reason to voice their pent-up rage at the state of their lives, at the way they are treated as a people, the way our society treats them as an “other”.
For my sensitive soul, it was four days of inexhaustable grief and stress. I had a pit in my stomach every time I got on the computer. I couldn’t watch the local news without tears. Eventually I had to turn it off mentally just to get on with my day. I felt so much sadness for the poor slain officer’s family, for the second officer recovering in the hospital, and for the family of the suspect who had already lost one son to a police shooting a decade before. Often I wished I had the power to just turn it around, to take them all back to the moment before the suspect had the idiotic idea to carjack his first victim.
Even now, days after the suspect is in prison and the slain officer buried, people are still creating scads of Facebook “fan” pages and groups for the suspect, and others are creating groups to ban THOSE groups. It is a never ending cycle of anger and hatred. Everyone is determined to one-up the other, and nobody seems to realize that there are no winners. I believe I’m one of the few people in this town who was in the unique position to feel sympathy for both the victim and the person who killed him.
I am a sensitive person. An emotional one. Things tear me apart that wouldn’t cause another person to bat an eye. The past week’s events in Athens, Georgia have taught me that being overly sensitive is a “curse” that I will curse no more. For I am an infinitely better person for my sensitivity, my compassion and my heart. I will never judge anyone, I will always stop to think that ones circumstances can shape the person they become, and that sometimes otherwise good people can do really bad things. I am sensitive to the world around me, to other people and to the emotions that drive us. I’m a pacifist and a bleeding heart. And I’m proud to be. I would rather cry a river of tears for the injustices of the world than be hardened, bitter, and ambivalent to the very society I live in.