Solidarity is a word many of us throw around without thinking about its deeper implications. At its root, solidarity is not just about working together toward justice, but about a willingness to enter into another person’s pain. This is what practicing empathy means. Many of us have been moved by the students from Parkland, Florida, who are standing up against the mass shootings that have become horrifically routine in America. But to truly empathize with those students, we have to leave the boundaries of our own emotional comfort zones and enter into their pain and suffering.
Today’s reading from Isaiah shows us how God models this kind of empathy for us.
In a time of favor I answer you,
on the day of salvation I help you.
In the footage of these students, their articulate words strike us. But visual images of the teenagers and their families move us, and they rarely capture a person standing alone. Here, a woman with an Ash Wednesday cross on her forehead clutching a child; here, a teenage student giving a speech, a supportive, anonymous hand on her shoulder; here, two girls holding up a sign together, a sign with only one word inked out in capital letters: ENOUGH.
Sing out, O heavens, and rejoice, O earth,
break forth into song, you mountains.
For the LORD comforts his people
and shows mercy to his afflicted.
Empathy may mean encountering discomfort, but it also means creating an end to fear, because once we are open to it, we can understand, at last, that we are never truly alone. Solidarity is about unity of feeling and action. Justice work must also be heart work, and soul work, and in order to do either, we need to hold one another up.
Kaya Oakes is the author of four books. She teaches nonfiction writing at UC Berkeley and her essays and journalism have appeared in America, Commonweal, Slate, The New Republic, Foreign Policy, Sojourners, and many other places.