The Light of Empathy

The downtown central library in San Antonio is lovingly referred to by locals as the “Enchilada.” The color of its skin can only be likened to the chili con carne sauce draped over a steaming plate of enchiladas. There are multiple floors to this library and extensive collections, and the most recent addition is a Latin collection. Recently this new wing hosted a poetry workshop led by a Latina poet named Carolina Hinojosa-Cisneros, a writer I had come across while living in Saba. I fell in love with the timbre and viscosity of her language while listening to a podcast as I cleaned the kitchen before bed. Her imagery was like a meal.

My first poetry manuscript had just been picked up by an independent publisher in West Texas. I had written the entirety of it on Saba, detailing my Caribbean experience in verse. Now that I had left my exotic life of adventure to live in suburbia’s guest room, I worried poetic inspiration would no longer flow through my veins. What would I write about? Materialism? The Concrete Jungle? I was unable to access my heart; it had been traumatized into silence. I felt a splitting of myself into the highly functional “necessary” self and the wounded, unspeakably sad, and exhausted self. The latter was inconvenient and prone to random outbursts of rage.

When I arrived at the “Enchilada,” I parked and walked briskly to the workshop, clutching my bag near my side. Although I was eager to learn something new, I had qualms about showing up. I didn’t want to answer questions or get to know anyone. My life was way too complicated for pleasantries. I carved my way through the steaming humidity and into the shock of cool air, past the library’s circulation desk.

I grabbed a seat towards the front, observing Carolina, sheepishly meeting her dark eyes as she smiled to welcome me. She seemed luminous, completely open to the souls of others, while I carried the narrative of a heavy life I could no longer bear, iron clad around a once soft heart. After a few introductory remarks, she instructed us to stand altogether in a circle to do a connection exercise.

My breathing shallowed.

“Look into your chest and find your light,” she said with anticipation.

I turned inward with my gaze, searching for light, but instead I was met with vacancy. There was no fire in the hearth, no light to be found. My eyes watered, and I felt embarrassed. This was supposed to be a simple exercise, and here I was crying because my internal light had burned out, and it was cold and sobering.

“Reach into your chest, and hold your light,” she continued.

I remained inside the space of my heart, continuing to weep as neatly as possible. Multiple funerals for my Authentic Self had already occurred, and I had no idea how to raise her from the dead. That was God’s job, and while I believed resurrection was the main reason the door to Saba was “closed,” I was too exhausted to jump into the healing waters.

I did what I could to be well, but this was far beyond positive self-talk. I needed someone else to push me into the water.

A bit of relief washed over me as the presence of God settled into my spirit and lit a match. The flame was small, but it flickered, poised to grow.

“Feel the light, pull it out of your chest, offer it to those around you,” she urged.

We opened our eyes, looked around acknowledging the gifts we had been given, then resumed our seats. I had the distinct feeling that this was a new beginning. The rest of the workshop was rich and inspiring. I felt the reality of my brokenness in a new way, meeting the real Kelsi, acknowledging the truth of her experience, and catching vision for the new way of life she would embody.

On the drive home, Steffany Gretzinger’s song “Bright Ones” played over the speakers. Her evocative voice declared:

We were born of kindness
Carriers of promise
To be Your kingdom coming

We have found the vibrance
Children of Your likeness
Alive to be a witness

We are Your bright ones
Lit up with Your love
Glowing in darkness

We shine with You

Light fueled by love is the brightest. I get lost so easily, trusting brokenness more than I do wholeness. I mistake isolation for safety, forgetting the beautiful healing that comes from receiving and giving empathy, even when no words are spoken. I couldnow fathom the far reaches of love’s light, the endless potential of being lit by the renewable energy of Jesus.

Kelsi Folsom holds a B.M. in Voice Performance and has traveled all over the world participating in operas, musicals, jazz bands, and choirs. Now a mom to “three under three”, she currently resides in San Antonio, Texas. When she is not putting on her best Cherubino while changing dirty diapers, you can find her perfecting gluten-free recipes, *gasp* reading, enjoying a nap, or trying to make sense of her life over french press. Kelsi writes here.