My middle daughter, Sydney, has always been my “sensitive” child. I’m ashamed to admit that over the years I’ve used that word with various parts of bafflement, head shaking and frustration. Those that know her father and I would probably never use that word to describe us, so it’s always been hard for us to really understand and empathize with where she’s coming from. When she would start crying because a certain song hurt her feelings, I would both laugh and shake my head. When she would get her feelings hurt because her older sister said something (something that I thought was not a big deal), I would get frustrated. “Sydney, don’t be so sensitive all the time,” is a phrase that has been said with frequency in the Samoska house.
What I meant, of course, was, stop crying all the time. Toughen up. Be harder, stronger, thicker skinned. Be more like me.
Recently, though, I’ve come to realize that being sensitive isn’t a bad thing. It’s not something I need to teach her to get over, or to bury down below a layer of hardness. Truly, being sensitive is a gift. She has a level of compassion that’s innate and beautiful. When she sees someone feeling left out or picked on or sad, she’s the first to walk up and try to help. She notices people. She sees the loneliness and the hurt and the need.
One of her teachers emailed me once. She said that Sydney stayed at the table keeping a friend company while she worked, even though Sydney had already finished her task. Rather than go play with the other students, she chose to sit quietly by her friend and show support. Her father and I didn’t teach her that; Sydney did that because she cared. She didn’t want her friend to feel alone and left out, so she took steps to make it better.
All of those things that come with being sensitive are wonderful – the compassion, the empathy and the helpfulness. Still, though I could see those benefits, I thought of Sydney as just a little too soft. It was good that she had so much compassion, but she still needed toughening up to make it in this world. Then I had a conversation with her the other day, and a giant lightbulb went off in my slow moving brain.
Sydney: I have a very sensitive heart. It’s always getting hurt when people are mean to me.
Me: Yes, that’s true.
Sydney: It’s also really big because I love lots of people.
Me: Yes, and you know what? It’s really strong, too.
Sydney: What? How is it strong? It’s always getting hurt.
Me: Well, even though your heart is soft and it gets bruised easily, you always forgive them and still love them after people hurt your feelings. That takes a very strong heart.
Sydney is strong. Much stronger than me. Yes, she gets hurt easily, but her capacity to forgive and love after the pain takes a level of strength that I’ve rarely reached in my life. She doesn’t hold grudges, or make people jump through hoops to get her forgiveness. Even if she practices caution after experiencing hurt, she doesn’t stop loving someone. She doesn’t stop thinking of them or praying for them. She doesn’t dismiss friends that have slighted her or walked away from a person that hurt her feelings. That, my friends, is true strength. It’s quiet, and not obvious unless you’re really looking, but it’s amazing and lovely all the same. Perhaps next time I want to walk away from someone who hurts my feelings, to blow off a person who I don’t want to forgive, I’ll think of Sydney and tell myself to toughen up like her.