When the Holocaust is mentioned in a therapy session, it is empathy overload for the victims, even for the survivors, that brings the patient (and sometimes the therapist) to tears. Someone has to change the subject.
The rub is that even if we did change jobs we would find ourselves still feeling the pain, that of the people, the very world around us. Just like you do.
At some point I stop. Because there she is.
Even if we wanted to leave our empathy sensors behind while on vacation, leave the whole idea of other people and their problems in the taxi, we can't. It is a part of our packaging, noticing the emotional state of anything with a pulse, any living thing. (You certainly don't have to be a therapist to be equipped like this, but it is a vocational plus if you are.) Empathy is a trait, but curiosity an appetite, nourished young. In third grade, there's a girl sitting in the desk on the left, upset about something more than her C-minus. You're dying to know what.
Here, with a random stranger, it is just that, empathy sparking curiosity, but there's no authentic caring. If she were to run to get a last minute coffee and missed the flight, it wouldn't matter to us. Our curiosity doesn't work that hard.
But if our sister or brother took off for a sandwich and didn't return, didn't make that plane, we would care. Second to parents, siblings are among the first objects of attachment. We bond with them, are in forced-habitation with them during those early, formative years.
Parents contribute, reinforce those first ties, even orchestrate close sibling alliances, by (1) staying out of the middle; (2) showing favoritism to all, not no favoritism; and (3) forming a loving executive committee that makes decisions. The last is a tight communicative unit that allows input from the peanut gallery, but still makes the rules. Or (4) parents can influence a sibling alliance off-handed, unconsciously, behaving in completely dysfunctional ways, their children close because of the dysfunction. When the sibship is unhappy, people say: Family breaks your heart.
So when I’m looking around, it looks as if there is at least one person whose heart, whose very identity, has suffered a fracture or two. Not that the hunch is necessarily right; this is just a feeling, an intuition. Maybe misguided empathy. There will likely be no conversation as a validity test.
Ms. King won’t talk to you at the gate, for sure not. But to read her story about losing four sisters (!!) to adoptions, losing herself to an adoption, is to feel unimaginable separation anxiety.
Bastards is about what family, what having brothers and sisters, should mean to us.
And as I'm reading it, cover on, I keep flipping to Mary Anna King's picture, just like I do while working, jotting notes, looking up, repeat, or even at the airport, when someone just looks interesting.