One of my earliest memories involves feeling intense empathy for a man who dropped his dime in a soda machine and did not receive his bottle of “pop”. My heart ached for that man. That event had to be in 1958, at the latest early 1959. My family was residing in an old school house they had rented in a small town called Maple Park. As I remember, the old school house had four rooms: a rest room with two chemical pit toilets and a sink, a kitchen, and a small cloak room. There were no other room divisions. ‘Rooms’ were divided by curtains hung on wires.
Anyway, the event involving the lost dime was in Sycamore, IL. I was in the back seat of the family sedan. My dad had pulled into a corner filling station to buy a quart of bulk oil. He went in to pay, we stayed in the car, I observed the event through the gas station window. I never shared that event at the time. But, it stuck in my mind. It was one of many times when I ‘felt’ the pain and disappointment of others. Interesting that I have spent the bulk of my life working with individuals who come to talk about their life issues. I would never have dreamed I would be a psychologist. For that matter, I did not even plan on going to college. More about that story in a future blog.
I still pick up on feelings. Of course, I can be as dumb as a stump, too. But, usually, I can pick up on emotional vibes. There are occasions when I know, even though I cannot tell you how I know. But, I know that I know. It has been both beneficial and not so much. Early indication of later profession? Certainly, it would seem to be a theme.
The Lost Dime
The old Buick had been well used, but was functional, except for its thirst for gasoline and oil.
The family had piled into the old black sedan, a Roadmaster, I think. I do not remember where we eventually landed. But, we had to make a stop.
The old behemoth must have run low on the motor oil. A stop at a filling station was required in order to quench the thirst for the petroleum product.
The cheapest way to sate the need for oil consumption was bulk oil in quart jars. Do it yourself for a lesser cost than refined oil. Limited means required frugality.
Dad went in to pay the station attendant. In the station was a short man who dropped his dime in a soda machine. No product, only a puzzled and disappointed look on his face. (A dime was a virtual fortune to a young boy in that day).
I felt his pain to the point of hurting for him and feeling that in some way I was responsible for the man’s loss. Preposterous, but the feelings were for real. I will never know if he was refunded the dime or was able to obtain his soda.
That memory is still very fresh. Other memories would follow, many of them. The feelings were often intense. They were never shared at the time. Puzzling to a fair degree. But, they helped shape a concern and compassion for others. A tendency to assume others’ feelings, too. Daunting, but a gift.
Dimes still bring back that memory. Others’ experiences still evoke empathy. At one time, only psychopaths lacked empathy. It seems that too few, too often, are absent empathy. If only more would be so readily touched.
–Richard L. Brewer