Sky/Clouds. Photo by Callen Harty.

As a natural empath I can absorb an incredible amount of pain for others.  I have been blessed in the sense that my own pain threshold, both physical and emotional, is much higher than most.  This doesn’t mean I never feel pain or get sad; just that it takes considerably more to get me there.  It gives me room to take on more for others.  It is something I have done my entire life.

Even as a child people I barely knew felt free to bare their souls and share their innermost secrets and fears.  Friends have always been able to call upon me and know that I can listen and ease the burden some for them.  It is not as if I take it upon myself and carry the full weight of it; it is more that I can take it from them and put it somewhere within me, sort of like storage.  I can take it and be with it and not be unduly burdened, and yet somehow at the same time their burden is lessened.  I have always known that it is part of my purpose in life. It is a gift.

But occasionally there are tumultuous times when it seems that the entire world around me is suffering at once.  Because I take it all in I can find myself in a place of profound–I don’t want to say sadness or depression, because it is not really that–weldschmerz.  It is a German word that translates as “world pain” or “world weariness”.  For me, though, it is not about my emotional state, but more about the fact that the world at times is a very sad and horrible place.

If ignorance is bliss, then sometimes empathy can be a horrible gift.

Right now I am helping one person deal with the sexual abuse of their daughter, another with general malaise, another with a horrible situation that I can’t even talk about or share with anyone else.  An acquaintance–and a very good man–just died.  Someone else I know is losing two people in their life.  And then I think about war atrocities, homeless people, an economy that is making paupers out of millions while millionaires get richer, and I can’t help but feel weldschmerz, which to me is again not about sadness, but akin to an empathy that takes in the whole earth and its suffering.

I think that part of it is that a man, even an empathetic man, only has so much space in his heart and soul.  So until my mind can sort out all the different sadnesses and find appropriate places for each of them it is a little overcrowded and some of that sadness is spilling over into that feeling of world weariness.  I know that this, too, shall pass, that at some point all of it will be sorted out and that I will have room for more.  That is the joy of the world.  It is filled with contradictions.  There are moments of sadness, followed by moments of bliss.  There is hatred and there is love.  I understand yin and yang, suffering and joy, rain and rainbows, and I know that sadness today can yield to happiness tomorrow.  If the Germans had a word for “world joy” it would be a word I know as well as the word for “world pain” and I would also know that its utterance would be heard soon.

About Callen Harty

Originally from Shullsburg, Wisconsin Callen Harty is the author of four books and numerous published essays, poems, and articles. His most recent book is The Stronger Pull, a memoir about coming out in a small town in Wisconsin. His first book was My Queer Life, a compilation of over 30 years worth of writing on living life as a queer man. It includes essays, poems, speeches, monologues, and more. Empty Playground: A Survivor's Story, is a memoir about surviving childhood sex abuse. His play, Invisible Boy, is a narrative with poetic elements and is also an autobiographical look as surviving child sex abuse. All are available on Amazon.com (and three of them on Kindle) or can be ordered through local bookstores, He has written almost two dozen plays and 50 monologues that have been produced. Most of them have been produced at Broom Street Theater in Madison, Wisconsin where he started as an actor, writer, and director in 1983. He served as the Artistic Director of the theater from 2005-2010. Monologues he wrote for the Wisconsin Veterans’ Museum won him awards from the Wisconsin Historical Society and the American Association of State and Local History. He has also had essays, poems, and articles published in newspapers and magazines around the country and has taken the top prize in several photo contests. His writing has appeared in Out!, James White Review, Scott Stamp Monthly, Wisconsin State Journal, and elsewhere. He has had several essays published online for Forward Seeking, Life After Hate, and The Progressive. Callen has also been a community activist for many years. He was the co-founder of Young People Caring, UW-Madison’s 10% Society, and Proud Theater. He served as the first President of Young People Caring and as the Artistic Director for Proud Theater for its first five years. He is still an adult mentor for the group. In 2003 he won OutReach’s Man of the Year award for his queer community activism. OutReach is Madison, Wisconsin’s lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender community center. He also won a Community Shares of Wisconsin Backyard Hero award for his sex abuse survivor activism work. He has been invited to speak before many community groups, at a roundtable on queer community theater in New York City, and has emceed several events. In 2016, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault named him their annual Courage Award winner for his activism, writing, and speaking on sexual assault.
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