Tragedy and Empathy

One of the best lines I have read so far in Moby Dick, is at the end of Chapter 68 – The Blanket. “Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it. Be cool at the equator; keep thy blood fluid at the Pole. Like the great dome of St. Peter’s, and like the great whale, retain, O man! in all seasons a temperature of thine own.”
So to is it in police work. The juxtaposition between the streets I patrol at night and the wooded isle I inhabit by day is stark and deliberate. Over the past ten years, in the course of my twenties, by body has endured two branches of servitude and a third uniformed profession, submersed in the carnal chaos I tend to thrive. During that time, in moments of existential clarity, I take note and question my growing cynicism. In reading this Psychology Today article, Don’t Harden Your Heart, the following lines are all too familiar. “I can’t do anything about it; so I don’t care.”

About six years ago after reading Nicholson Baker’s Checkpoint, while I struggled with my own involvement in a larger movement I questioned more and more, I came to the conclusion that there is so much information both classified and free, disseminating from regions of conflict. No matter how much you read, no matter how well informed you are, there existed a separate world, one in which we can only absorb even when participating at the cutting edge. Compartmentalization and resiliency go hand in hand. Recognizing the need to cultivate empathy when days have been filled constantly surrounded by mental illness, drug abuse, violence, and the worst of human behavior while people are enduring the worst of times, it sometimes takes an effort to recognize the rest of the world or even the city is not as bad as I perceive it, not to mention the rotting bodies decomposing for days and weeks on end, the unmistakable smell of death, brain matter leaking from an ear as we attempt to breath life into a crepitated soul, eyes wide with a flutter pulse. A paremedic once described such resiliency as detatched empathy and the need to exist in the realm between empathy and overwhelming anxiety stemming from our emotional compassion.

At times it is better to remember that no matter how much you may love this job, the job will never love you and more often it isn’t what you do for a living but how it allows you to spend your free time that matters most.


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