Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Empathy - Essay from Newsletter 142

Feeling your pain

Boysenberry jam fan

Sometimes lyrics from songs just pop into my head.

Sitting here waiting for the water to boil for my morning tea I thought, “I wish I was an English muffin, ‘bout to make the most out of a toaster,” and smiled at the memories of the Simon and Garfunkel song released more than fifty years ago.

Paul Simon imagined himself as the bread and thought he’d “ease myself down, comin’ up brown.”

I don’t know why those are the words that come back. I usually forget that the song begins with him being a cornflake relaxing in a bowl of milk “talkin’ to a raisin who occasionally plays L.A., Casually glancing at his toupee.”

A raisin with a toupee.

And yet I’m in the bowl with the cornflake and in the toaster with the English muffin.

Even though I’m on my couch preparing to write a section or two for my Async book.

Remembered Pain

I’ve spent too much time sitting these past two weeks.

It’s so easy to get lost in the code and the prose for hours without moving.

After days of this I feel a stiffness in the back of my leg. If I pay attention to it I’ll be ok.

If I shake it off I won’t.

I get something that feels like plantar facietis in my foot. I don’t know if that’s what it is medically, but it’s a pain that feels like a nail in my foot when I put any kind of weight on it. Even the bed sheet over it at night causes extreme discomfort.

I don’t have that pain now. I caught it early and stretched my leg so I’m ok.

But every time it happens I realize that I have no memory of the pain.

I remember it was bad, but I can’t really remember or feel how bad it was.

And if I can’t feel my own pain, how can I feel or understand the pain or challenges of others?

Looking Ahead

As I was leaving the dentist the other day I noticed a man being dropped off. He opened the back door of the car and pulled out a walker and started towards the office building.

I pulled my phone out of my pocket and looked at email so it wouldn’t appear I was waiting for him. I looked up as he got close and held the door.

My friend Eric used to talk at conferences about making apps more accessible to those who had difficulty hearing or seeing. He reminded us that that will be each of us someday.

The man in the walker - that will be me.

Maybe I can’t fully remember my past pain - but I have enough of a notion of it that I stretch when I feel it coming on.

In the same way, I can’t know what limitations I will have as I age - but I’ve seen people’s hearing and sight fail, I’ve seen walkers and wheelchairs, I saw my dad at the end - some of that will be me.

I may be swimming with raisins in a bowl of milk, but that’s not how the story ends for the cornflakes.


The videos on the Try channel often consist of three pairs of regular participants tasting an unusual food or trying to identify the components of a cocktail.

Recently they did one that I found eye opening. I don’t know how to tell you about it without the women in my life rolling their eyes at me that I found it eye opening.

“How could you not know,” they’ll say.

I know and I don’t know.

I’ve sat with people in a good deal of pain. I know they’re in pain - but I don’t really know.

It turns out that that’s been true more than I’ve understood.

The video featured three pairs, one male one female, trying a period pain simulator.

For tasting videos, each pair tries the item at the same time and talks it through and comes to a consensus.

In this video the women went first.

The simulator went all the way to twenty.

Even the women who were bothered by the lower and medium settings were able to talk easily and function throughout. At the very top end one of the women showed discomfort but if I’d been sitting across from her having a cup of tea, I wouldn’t have had any idea how much she was holding back.

And then it was the men’s turn. From the beginning they were anticipating how bad it was going to get and by the middle range they were unable to focus on the conversation around them without difficulty. Each acknowledged that they couldn’t have gone through a normal day getting work done - and that was before the setting was above twelve.

One of the men tried to distract himself by engaging in normal conversation with the woman he was paired with. She asked him if while he was listening to her all he was thinking was “shut the f’ up.”

I started the video over to watch the women again. Now that I’d seen the drama of the men for setting ten and up, I wanted to see how the women had reacted.

There are so many direct lessons to be drawn and so many metaphorical lessons to other unbalanced playing fields.

By the end the entire crew thought that men should have to go through an exercise like that.

I think we probably should.

But I can’t really remember how bad my foot hurt the last time it really hurt.

I don’t know if I’ll remember enough to truly understand your pain and discomfort.

The English muffin may not be enjoying the warmth of the toaster as it gets its midwinter tan. Perhaps the muffin is looking at the red hot coils on either side of it, trying not to scream, “I’m f’ing burning up in here.”

The cornflake may not be floating on its back enjoying the day in a bowl of milk. It may be looking at the raisin with a toupee and thinking, “stop talking about your f’ing audition and help me - I’m drowning.”

Now I feel like I’m in the bowl with the cornflake and in the toaster with the English muffin.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 142. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS