Tupac had a song called “Brenda’s Got a Baby.” I remember when I first heard it. I was alone in my dorm room.
It starts like this:
I hear Brenda’s got a baby
But Brenda’s barely got a brain
A damn shame, the girl can hardly spell her name.
I don’t know if it was the soulful harmony that preceded these words or the actual rap, but I was captivated.
The song goes on to describe how she didn’t know her parents. One of them was a drug addict. But here’s the kicker. Her cousin became her boyfriend and she ended up pregnant! And guess what? Brenda was twelve.
I remember being glued to the black and white video. Tears streamed down my face and I hadn’t even gotten to the worse part. Brenda had her baby, threw it in the trash, and then became a prostitute.
What in the entire…
Anywho, it was too much. And I remember it all. I sat on the edge of my bed and cried as if I knew Brenda personally. Even though I didn’t know anyone remotely close to a “Brenda,” I remember feeling the pain of being a twelve-year-old, who was pregnant with her cousin’s baby. And then I felt the pain of being a baby thrown away in the trash.
That’s how I’ve been my whole life.
Some may say I’m an empath. I’ve never claimed it. But I do admit to being empathetic. It comes naturally.
It doesn’t matter if I know your backstory or not, I have the ability to listen to what you’ve told me, recognize, understand and share your thoughts and feelings.
My problem, until recently, has been realizing that not everyone has this ability, which coupled with my (sometimes) judgmental nature, caused problems.
For example, when my father died, my cousins wanted my stepmother to pick them up from the train station. It was remarkable to me that they would ask a recent widow to do something more equipped for a Lyft driver. I couldn’t wrap my brain around why they couldn’t put themselves in a grieving woman’s place and sense she may be a bit too sad to function normally.
I recognized it again when my goddaughter brought her godson, Mark to our house a couple years ago. We were decorating Christmas trees.
Mark bounced around helping each person with their ornaments. He danced when we turned on some music, and when we watched Frozen, he belted out a song as if he was Anna herself.
But when it was time to go, he shriveled up like a roly-poly pill bug and sulked around the house until it was time to go.
And I felt his sullenness.
Without my goddaughter telling me parts of his homelife, I sensed that wherever he was going, there was no joy. For some reason, he was crying on the inside. He was more than just disappointed because he’d had a good time at our home. His sadness held an untold story.
“I feel sorry for him,” I said out loud.
“You always feeling sorry for someone,” a friend of mine replied.
I couldn’t understand how she or any other adult who witnessed the same Mark I just did, didn’t feel similar. Aside from my goddaughter, why didn’t anyone else feel his sorrow?
But now I get it…kind of.
I’m not sure where I’m going with this information, though. On the one hand, I understand we can’t all go around crying over music videos and lyrics. On the other hand, I do wish people were more empathetic. It seems more empathy might create better families and communities…somehow.
So, I’ll end with the above thought and let you decide. Will empathy weaken or strengthen us?