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Mindfulness of GIFs
on empathy & the power of the right gif at the right time
I’ve already graded 25 projects and I have 10 more to go, my brain is jelly, my body is calcified, the deadline is tomorrow and I have to keep going or I won’t get there, especially factoring in the countless times I will be interrupted between now and the deadline for snacks or questions about where someone’s shoes are.
I lean back from my desk and look up through the skylight. A bird is walking along the roof of the house next door. It takes mincing steps on its thin legs. I close the computer, close my eyes, and breathe.
I feel jittery, depleted. My eyeballs prickle. I flip over my phone to check (for what?) A text from my sister checking in on me. I text her back: I AM EXHAUSTED I CANNOT KEEP GOING I AM SO TIRED BUT I HAVE TO FINISH
Three dots. Then a gif: A middle-aged mustached office worker pushing papers around his desk frantically, flings a picture frame in the air, sighs, folds his arms over his belly.
I laugh hard. I cry a little. I laugh again.
This image so perfectly captures how I feel, what I intensely want to do, what I am doing in my head but can’t reasonably do, and it feels so deeply good.
She heard what I’ve said—my minor suffering that feels major and unending in this moment—and she witnessed it. She took a moment from wherever she is now to name it. And, poof—I’m not alone even though I’m still sitting at my desk alone, facing the grading pile alone.
She met my suffering with empathy and humor, which softens its ragged edges.
A small catharsis, yes, but one that returns me swiftly to feeling human. One that offers me a respite from automaticity. Wakes me up to my aliveness.
If mindfulness is paying attention in the present moment without judgment, this gif text is a mindfulness practice. Not one that I can find on my own, no matter how long I sit and breathe and examine my inner being. It flows from outside of me—a river of empathy. A river carved out of my sister “getting it.” And, all I have to do is accept that, laugh, be grateful.
A small act that opens the door to something bigger. Something that matters.
I walk into my next moment still exhausted, jittery, but awake. Changed.
A few links for you:
For Pittsburgh-based readers, I’m reading poems with Sharon McDermott and M. C. Benner-Dixon TONIGHT at White Whale Bookstore to celebrate the launch of their new book, Millions of Suns: On Writing and Life. Come join us!
Carolee Bennett’s “Love Letter to the Poetics of Wrongness” by Rachel Zucker is brilliant. Read it here (& I recommend subscribing!)
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