I was really grumpy for a week when my toe was sore. It was weird – or perhaps completely obvious – how out of sorts it made me feel. It had the strange effect, similar to when you’re wanting to be pregnant and it seems everyone has an egg belly, that everywhere I looked I could see limping people, people on crutches, people struggling to walk through pain. And I realised that I hadn’t really been noticing them before – it was my own pain that was making them apparent. I think that we all want to believe that we have great empathy, that we can imagine what it’s like for other people, but in fact we can’t, fully. There’s always some kind of membrane, a spider web nest between you and the other person’s experience. Which is probably why I like novels and personal essays so much – you can feel like you are seeing another’s life without the membrane, that this is the insight you were lacking.
Still, I think we’re fooling ourselves a little. Not that I think we can’t imagine another’s experience, but that there will always be that gap. That gap is important though – it keeps us curious, it keeps us reaching and reading and changing. I gorge myself on articles on the internet. I listen to podcasts* as I colour comics and do the housework. I fill myself to the brim with information and some of it sticks, most of it dissipates. I long for the clarity the podcasts bring, but mainly my thoughts jumble about, willy-nilly. My sore toe – it’s not so sore now. The joint aches when I walk but not when I’m sitting still. I know I will forget what it’s like to live with acute pain and I am pleased about that. It’s unbearable, but many people bear it.
(*Of course, if I wasn’t trying to find a decent podcast in the first place I never would’ve sprained my bloody toe!)