Migraine headaches are one of the most painful experiences I have had in my life. While I believe my headaches were brought on by stress of coaching basketball I am relieved that they no longer bother me as they once did. There are so many people like one of my coworkers who are not so fortunate. Many people suffer greatly and are incapacitated for hours and in some cases days by the auras and the blinding pain that strikes their brain. Some people identify what triggers their pain and find relief with meds and now Botox treatments but still others just have to bear it. I am beyond grateful that they no longer are a part of my life.
This past year, our country has experienced some horrific and tragic events like mass shootings, rapes, tragic accidents and mind-boggling racial violence. The political campaigns seem endless leading up to the actual voting. There has been slander, criticism, and personal attacks, unproven facts and a constant barrage of half-truths that feed the 24-hour news cycle. There are heated and controversial conversations between ordinary people around “the water cooler” regarding gun control or immigration requirements. It does not matter how we are politically affiliated or motivated, it feels like we, as a people, have lost our compassion and empathy for people of different faiths, cultures, genders, races, sexual orientations and economic status. As I was watching the Excedrin Migraine virtual reality ad, I wondered what it would be like if each of us could place the device over our eyes in order to experience the lives of others and events that we are rushing to speedy judgment. To do this would we be able to set aside our cultural and religious prejudices and expectations so that to can be present in our neighbor’s world?
We sympathize in the death of a child well enough but what happens when that young person commits a crime and is killed running from the police? It is easy to feel justified in the police actions because they were only doing what they have been trained to do; d-escalate a situation before others are harmed. Are we empathetic to the split-second decisions they make in doing their duty? On the flip side, could we look through the eyes of the parents as they are told that their son was killed while fleeing from the scene of a crime? Would we have more compassion for the parent who looks into the face of their dead child? Both the police and the family have stories that lead up to the tragic event but both are often judged as trigger happy or accused of being a bad parent. The same scenario can be played out with any type of circumstance such as looking through the eyes of a rape victim. We often hear comments that blame the victim for the attack with comments like, “she asked for it by the way she was dressed” or “she shouldn’t have been drinking so much.” Wearing the device would we see things differently if we were in her virtual reality as she tried to fight and scream to get away from a rapist without success? What would it feel like to be in a court of law trying to bring her accuser to justice for a very personal crime only to have her life questioned rather than that of the rapist? The judgments that rush to our lips are easy when we are not affected by the circumstances.
During the Excedrin commercial, each of the testers was shocked by what the migraine sufferer experiences during their severe headaches. One mom told her daughter that she wished that she “could take the pain on” for the daughter. It opened her eyes to her daughter’s life in a very real way. If we had the opportunity to experience life through another person's eyes, would we be less judgmental and more sympathetic to their circumstances? As a Christian, my focus is on following Jesus and his example to care for people, all people. The Gospel of John states, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (13: 34-35)." Jesus didn't have a reality device however he looked into the eyes of people and saw who they were and healed their pain. He saw them just as they were without the need for a device, and loved them anyway. Let us do the same.