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Empathy Ends at the Airport

The other day my mom, Caroline and I went for ice cream at a local mom and pop near our house. While we ordered, Caroline wiggled her way out of my arms and marched by the diners, who of course, smiled as she waddled by them. The place was packed with locals, young families and elderly couples. Faces I see around every day, faces I have grown accustomed to as I've made this place my home.

When we left, my mom chuckled and mentioned an older man with a really bad toupee. It was bad, like a kitten was curled up sleeping on his head. It was pretty funny but I didn't laugh when it was indeed laugh-worthy. I didn't laugh because lately I've had a case of overactive empathy.

The man with the toupee, the late night airport shuttle driver with his lunch packed in a travel cooler, the woman working the toll booth at midnight. I know my life is easier than many others. I don't feel sorry for these people or think I'm better than they are. I've just started noticing the little things in life and really realizing it's all about the little things. People are amazing just for being themselves. Sometimes we are too busy with ourselves to notice how simply and beautifully the rest of the world is living around us.

I'm a cry baby, too. I always have been but I think a side effect of my overactive empathy is Hallmark sentimentality. I cried recently when I saw a kitchen counter top commercial where the voice over describes a husband and wife starting their lives and filling their home with memories. The camera pans to a beautiful kitchen (this is where the tears start rolling) and then to a mom handing her toddler a sippy cup.

You would have thought Tim Russert was my uncle with the tears I shed while watching the Today Show and Wolf Blitzer on CNN. Every time they showed the photo of his son touching his Meet the Press chair or played a Bruce Springstein song I began to openly bawl. I never even really watched Meet the Press.

I'm not sure if motherhood has made me a softy because I used to have an edge. I used to laugh at people's simplicity and had no problem swearing at other drivers on the road or pushing a few people out of the way to rush from a subway car.

Sometimes the anger comes back to me and I like the edge. For example yesterday, when I had 10 minutes between the plane landing and catching my connecting flight. I needed to keep my bag as close to me as possible so I could run off of the plane. When I tried to rearrange a grandma's quilted bag in the bin above to accommodate my carry-on, grandma stood up panicked and declared there was no way she would move her bag. I would have to move my bag elsewhere so as not to crush the "fragile" items in hers. I hurled my bag in the overhead behind me and let me eyes bore into the back of my seat, hoping lazer beams would fly from my irises and drill painful holes into the back of grandma's head. Little grandma almost got drop kicked when she apologized as I was anxiously awaited the door to open. "I'm sorry, I just didn't want my grandson's snacks to get crushed." At that moment, I would have only felt the warm fuzzies if I had been able to lift my carry-on over my head and repeatedly smash it into grandma's tote, turning little Billy's crackers into minute granules. I also pushed someone out of the way as I ran up the ramp. If she'd had a toupee, I would have knocked it off as I ran.

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