15 January 2016

The Tenth Plague: Empathy

Exodus 12:29-32 | Wisdom 11:2-16

Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:31)

Only now I understand you,
only now I feel your pain.
Only now do I feel sorry -
     do you feel sorry for me?

It's something else when it happens to others,
to the outsiders, foreigners, the ones we don't like.
I could close my eyes, ignore it,
or pretend it was all right -
I did not know what it was like,
I did not care to ask.

But now I feel the pain you felt,
now I lose what you have lost,
now He has taken what we took from you,
and made me see what we did to you.

I did not care to ask,
I did not know what it was like.
had I stopped to imagine
myself in your place,
my son in your son's place,
perhaps then
I would not have let them do to you
what I didn't want done to myself,
would not have made you lose your sons,
for I can't bear losing mine.

Only now I understand you,
only now I feel your pain.
Only now do I feel sorry -
    do you feel sorry for me?


[10. January 2016]

This is about / written from the p.o.v. of the mothers of the first-born who died during the tenth plague in Egypt. I decided to write about them after seeing the picture (above) by Charles Sprague Pearce - I must admit I had never considered their point of view before!

I hope this is understood correctly... in no way do I want to say the Egyptian mothers "deserved" what happened to them. Instead I see it as them having to learn empathy the hard way. Reading Wisdom 11 I found interesting that the Israelites had to learn empathy in the desert when they were thirsty (v. 8). And the sentence "one is punished by the very things by which one sins." (v. 16) The Egyptians actually got away considerably better during the tenth plague, I realised, than the Israelites who lost all their sons (except those like Moses who were hidden or saved) during the pharaoh's decree. The tenth plague was not simply a blow from above - it was the Egyptians being made to experience exactly that which they had done to the Israelites before.

So I wrote this considering how a bereft Egyptian mother might look differently at the Israelite mothers who had lost their children under the decree. I doubt that these Egyptian mothers really played a major part in killing Israelite children - but even if one does not play an active role, one plays a passive one (as happened a lot during the Holocaust): not standing up, not protesting, not defending those who are being abused by the system. Often we only realise what is going on and how wrong it is, and that we should be doing something, once we are ourselves affected.

Maybe we need to ask ourselves (before it's too late) who are those suffering today who need our voice. Before, like the Egyptian mothers, we have to be taught empathy the hard way...

Picture by Charles Sprague Pearce.

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