She had a different photo of skeletal, emaciated, starving children in ever room of her house. It seemed macabre to me, so I asked why.
She said, “Seeing these starving children makes me feel sad. It is so, so terrible.”
“Then you like feeling sad?”
“No. But it is my burden. And it makes me grateful. Very, very grateful for the quality of my own life.”
So I said, “Then what are you doing for the starving children? What are you doing to help relieve their suffering?”
“I feel sadness every day,” she said. “In every room of my house where I see the starving children, I feel sadness. Trust me, my heart is filled with a crippling sorrow for all these children. I pity them so much.”
“So you help them by feeling pity?”
“Yes,” she said. “The deepest sadness, sorrow and pity.”
“But there’s nothing more you do to relieve their suffering than allow yourself pity for them?”
“No,” she said. “There’s nothing else I can do. All this pain and sorrow for the starving children weighs me down. It’s too much of a burden to do anything but feel their pain and agony.”
“Besides, what of my own suffering?” she asked.
“Yes. With my heart aching from all this pain and sadness for all the poor, starving children. Perhaps you don’t know of such pain and sadness. Perhaps your heart is too impure. Perhaps you don’t understand the burden of carrying so much of their pain in your own heart.”
“Your suffering is very noble,” I said.
“Yes,” she said. “It is.”
“And you look healthy,” I said. “Plump and colorful and healthy and well-rested. I suppose your suffering isn’t harming your appetite.”
“No,” she said. “Nor my sleep.”
“Yet, you suffer right along with the starving children?”
“Yes,” she said. “Their suffering is mine too.”
I began to feel ill. I turned to leave.
“Where are you going?”
I told her it was time for me to leave her to her warm, spacious home, her TV, her full pantry and all those photos of starving children she had in every room.
She was disappointed and distraught.
“And leave me all alone with all this pain and suffering for the starving children? Won’t you stay longer to hear more about my sadness and suffering for them? Won’t you stay and lend a sympathetic ear to one who suffers so?”
“No,” I said.
“But I’m sure you have sympathy for starving children too.”
“A little,” I said. “But not enough to do anything for them. That’s the plain truth of it, I must admit.”
“But you can tell me you agonize for the starving children too. And I’ll listen and agree. So long as you listen and agree with me in return. Besides, there’s nothing else for you to do and nowhere else for you to go.”
“No,” I said.
I left. And I never returned, preferring nowhere and nothing to whatever it was she was offering.