Traveling abroad while our world entered a global pandemic inevitably caused me to redefine my experience of global empathy.

What an incredible lesson I am learning about shared pain. The definition of empathy is, “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.” Sure, we can sympathize with another’s pain, but to understand the feelings of another means to truly walk with them in their misfortune and hurt.

As my husband and I frantically made plans to come home from our European trip early, I began to take notice of the ways I was being comforted by the strangers around me. Whether it was an understanding look from a French taxi driver, a gracious smile from a British TSA officer, or a knowing “nod” from a fellow passenger on our flight; all of these things acknowledged, “You are not alone,” “I see you,” and “We are in this together.

I watched as people of all nationalities came together to support one another in the midst of chaos. A shared misfortune that ended up breeding connection and compassion, surpassing all language and cultural barriers. I have never been so far from home while feeling so seen and heard by the strangers around me.

Emma Mitchell walks with an umbrella near the Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Although her trip abroad was unexpectedly cut short, Emma Mitchell returned with a powerful lesson in empathy.

There is something uniquely beautiful about shared pain. Few other experiences in our history have impacted the entire world at once, uniting us in a global way.

We can sympathize with another’s pain, but to understand the feelings of another means to truly walk with them in their misfortune and hurt.

Granted, this call to “socially distance,” poses its fair share of challenges to our daily routines. And yet, I believe that this new challenge can prompt us to love ourselves and others in a new and unique way. In this period of “social distancing,” how do we continue to nurture the relationships around us?

Join me in the challenge to journal these 3 prompts every day.

  1. What emotion do I feel this morning, and where do I feel it in my body?
  2. How I can love myself today? How can I love others?
  3. Whom do I need to have empathy for? How can I do that?

Disruptions to our daily life often act as the catalysts to life-changing breakthroughs. In this time of uncertainty and confusion, remember this: you are not alone.

Emma Mitchell is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist at Cultivate Counseling Collective where she specializes in teens and young adults. She is also an alum of PLNU, having earned her Bachelor’s degree is 2015 and her Master’s degree in 2019. 

Related story: Brandon Walsh’s family was faced with an unplanned exit from Rwanda in the face of COVID-19.

PLNU’s the Viewpoint publishes relevant and vital stories that grapple with life's profound questions from a uniquely Christian perspective. In addition to the content offered online, the Viewpoint print magazine is published three times a year in spring, summer, and fall.