I’ve had this phrase in my head for a while now. I came across it while reading about empathetic people, and how they (we) often make the world’s problems and responsibilities their own. In short, we carry too much. And we give too much.
I’ve been writing a story for the past… I don’t know, decade. Which means it has evolved from my teenage years to young adulthood, and thank God the earliest drafts didn’t survive. The plot has been in constant flux during that time, mercilessly disemboweled on more than one occasion, and almost nothing remains the same from the original draft completed circa 2006 by a very proud high school student. Well, the Greats never said write your first draft well or at a reasonable age. They never said wait until your skills are honed to perfection. They said “Just do it! Finish it. Finish it!”
So I guess you could say I achieved.
But the one thing that has stayed constant through the years is the characters. I have a wonderful cast, and they’ve been with me for a long time. I kind of grew up with them. My favorite character I’ve ever created is a young man named Tol Clayman, who has an uncanny ability to see people’s physical, mental, and emotional hurts like a map in his head. He’s a very old soul because of this, and being able to see what his family and friends are feeling has been both a blessing and a burden, and it has filled him with incredible compassion, but also an incredible cynicism.
It’s been very interesting writing as this character, who has the perfect tools to become an ultimate manipulator, but whose sense of integrity forbids it on most occasions.
First and foremost, Tol is a helper and a healer. He grew up with a troubled younger brother and was able to quiet some of the kid’s rages because of his gift, and this always made him feel useful. As long as he could help someone, he was doing what he’s meant to do.
As you could probably guess, at one point in the story, he fails, and something tragic happens to one of his family members as a result. Tol sees himself as utterly responsible and guilty for this event that even with all his power, he couldn’t prevent. He had put his identity in this ability of his, and discovered that he couldn’t carry the world on his back like he thought he was supposed to. He can’t save everyone. Reflecting on his failure to help, Tol wonders, “I was made to help and to heal. If I can’t help, what’s the point of me?”
It’s the burden of being the one who helps. Even when the problem or the hurt isn’t yours, you blame yourself when something goes wrong. You become caught up in the lives of others to such an extent, that it’s like the hurt is happening to you. It’s possible to lose yourself in this kind of mindset. Some people are so good at caring for others that they see caring for themselves as selfish. They have an ocean of a heart that can hold so much.
This character has been an interesting journey of self-discovery as well. I dont have supernatural abilities, but I have a lot of the same thoughts about my purpose in life as someone who finds their identity in helping. I’ve been trying to learn that I don’t have to carry everything.Writing has helped me with this in some ways.
Pictures: “ocean for a heart,” and “giving hands” (Hannah Kubiak)