It’s So Nice to Meet an Old Friend . . .
empathy, visitors

It’s So Nice to Meet an Old Friend . . .

It’s so nice to meet an old friend and pass the time of day
And talk about the hometown a million miles away. . .

(Gordon Lightfoot, “Did She Mention My Name?”)

That’s what’s been going on for me lately. Jean, a dear friend, arrived last Saturday with Mary, a colleague from 3M days whom I had all but lost touch with. We rode the tram to the Old City, tramped through mosques and museums and ancient cisterns, and shopped for tea sets, scarves, purses, earrings, and ceramics. We drank wine on my balcony while ships glided by on the Bosphorus and the evening prayer call echoed through the twilight. We sat at dinner late into the night talking about everything.

As we sat and conversed, we were not in Istanbul, but we weren’t in Minnesota either. We were perched above both, in a kind of conversational ether tinged with hope and regret.

We talked about who we were back in the eighties, working in a department of twenty-somethings, starting our adult lives. We talked about what has touched us since: childrearing and promotions and home remodeling, but also divorce, mental illness, and the search for meaningful work. We talked about bitterness and who is entitled to it, and those who, despite profound setbacks, remain hopeful and accept diminished possibilities.

Throughout the three days, our conversation kept circling back to our country’s response to 9/11, for many of us the most significant occurrence of the last decade. We regret more deeply what we do and don’t do than what is done to us.

Our deep disillusionment with our country is one of our aches. Another is the chilling lack of empathy for the over 100,000 Iraqis killed by our war. Mary believes the empathy deficit reveals a lack of imagination, an inability to change perspectives. Yes. A direct link between empathy and imagination. Can there be a better reason for teaching our children the arts?

Jean and Mary are more optimistic than I. “We got through a Civil War, Susan. And the aftermath of slavery. We will get through this, too.”

This Saturday we welcome more friends.

2 thoughts on “It’s So Nice to Meet an Old Friend . . .

  1. The 100,000 Iraqi dead (not to mention those who were displaced)doesn’t get media coverage, so it’s like it didn’t happen; just like African oil spills larger than ours in the gulf get little notice. It’s only when it happens to us that it matters. Amy Goodman of “Democracy Now!” is one of the few journalists covering these issues.
    BTW, I love how you describe Istanbul: a literary feast for the senses!

  2. We want to think that Americans are good people who mean well, and I think for the most part, we are. It’s easy not to see our faults, especially when we’re not looking for them.

    I’m glad the latest Wiki leaks came out—not that I’m particularly happy to read all the nasty stuff that we’ve done, but maybe it’ll be a wakeup. I would love to see Americans get upset about it and the Obama administration repudiate all the crooked, criminal acts that were done in our name.

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