Friday, January 10, 2014

Pretty woman

So today I saw a pretty woman. Man, she was pretty.

I had just finished an appointment tutoring English and I was walking to the train station from the building where the appointment had been. It was a gray day and I put in my earphones and turned on my iPod to enliven the walk. The iPod was set to "shuffle" and the second song that came on was "Pretty Woman" by Roy Orbison. I was thinking about how utterly catchy and simple the opening drum riff is -- dun! dun! dun! dun! -- as I walked, passing an imposing brick penitentiary to my right. The song was up to the bridge, that part where it's like, "Pretty woman stop a while/Pretty woman talk a while," when I saw her.

But I hadn't known that she was pretty yet.

I just noticed that she was a girl. I saw that she was wearing tight pink jeans and brown boots. I was crossing the street toward her and she was bending down. But it wasn't anything sexy by any means. She was bending down because a piece of paper that had been in her hand -- I think it was a napkin -- had fallen out of her hand. The wind was blowing the napkin away from her and she was trying to catch it. She finally did and when she did, she quickly turned completely away from me and lifted the metal hatch to a dumpster that was behind her.

I noticed at this point that she was tall but I also noticed that her pants were sagging in the back, by her butt. I was unhappy about this because I couldn't check out her butt with her pants like that...I couldn't make out her form with her pants sagging. Also, I thought, "Wow, it looks like not every girl in Germany is perfectly put together." Because, man, girls in Germany, at least from what I have found, are always perfectly put together -- perfectly fitting jeans, tops, coats; perfect make up, hair; perfectly coordinating colors. But this woman's jeans, gosh darn it, were sagging in the back (though, to be fair, her look may have been thrown off a bit because she had been crouching when she was trying to catch the napkin).

Once I fully crossed the street -- at this point, you should know, the song was up to the part, "Pretty woman, yeah, yeah, yeah..." -- she turned from the garbage and looked my way.

And she was pretty.

She had brown-blonde hair up to her shoulders and every single strand, I swear, seemed to fall into place. Her face had sculpture. It was almost like a doll's face, but the woman was there. Yes, she did have high cheekbones, like many women and men here in Germany; the stereotype is true. Her eyes were blue and she wore just a touch of gray eye shadow, which turned them from what must have been a basic blue to royal blue. She was fit with a nice fitting coat and suede boots -- jeans tucked into them -- and the hood of her coat was fringed with what looked like fox hair.

She looked right at me and she was that kind of pretty that you just look in her face and you think, "Wow, now that's a pretty woman right there." And you get this feeling like, "Even if everything isn't perfect in my life, it's still kinda cool to be alive and to be able to have a pretty woman look you straight in the face like that."

I gave her a sympathetic smile -- after all, I'd just watched her chase after a dirty napkin and then lug open a big garbage hatch to deposit it. She didn't react to my look. She just looked at me.

I kept on walking until she was out of the frame of my view. Though she was out of my direct sight, something was still reverberating in my imagination. I didn't look back, though. I just kept on my way, listening to "Pretty Woman" and thinking about how it really is nice to see one.

Dun! dun! dun! dun!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Explained: "sympathy" vs. "empathy"

OK, I have a lot of energy right now so I think I'm just going to bang out a post. I want to discuss for a hot second something that has confused me when writing and when talking. "Sympathy" vs. "empathy." Come on, you know that you, too, have at some point been confused about when to use which.

But today, I finally got it. What happened was I was in a library waiting to meet someone and as I sat there waiting I noticed a big ol' Oxford English Dictionary sitting on a shelf. I had a few minutes before this person was to arrive, so I thought, "Let me finally try to get to the bottom of this 'sympathy' vs. 'empathy' thing." I had tried to get my head around the distinction in the past but had never been perfectly successful.

So I went over, grabbed the dictionary and opened it. And I finally got it, I think.

But I'm not going to reproduce here the exact OED definitions that I read. I'm not going to try to explain the difference between the two words to you that way. Instead, I'm going to sorta summarize both definitions and then help you fully get it by using the words in separate scenarios.

So basically "sympathy" is when you feel for someone; like, when you try your best to show a person that you care for his or her feelings. "Empathy" is when you actually understand and can really relate to the other person's feelings.

So, to illustrate "sympathy." Let's say you miss a very, very important train because the taxi you called to take you from your hotel to the train station was late, then got stuck in traffic, then was further delayed because the main road leading to the train station was closed.

Now, when you finally arrive at the ticket booth of the train station to see if another train is heading to the same destination later in the day, you say to the ticket booth worker: "Damn it! I can't believe I just missed my train. Now I probably won't be able to see my friend in another city who is very sick. I tried to make the train and wanted to so bad, but so many things prevented me."

If the ticket booth worker says to you -- "Jeez, I am so sorry. It sounds as though you tried to run to get here as fast as you could and it was very difficult for you. I see you're sweating. This all must have been very hard for you.  Let me see if there is anything I can do. Maybe we can get you on a special train tonight to where you need to go..." -- then she would be expressing sympathy for you. She cares for your feelings.

However, if the ticket booth worker were to have this response -- "Oh my god, I am so sorry that you missed the train to your friend. That's terrible. I remember one time, I also missed a train that I needed desperately. And I know exactly how you feel because I was actually on my way to see a friend that needed me really badly, too, and it was so terrible not to be able to be there for him because I just wanted to give him my support. I understand exactly what you must be going through"-- then the ticket booth worker would be empathetic to you. She understands -- truly understands -- your feelings.

Yup, so there it is, folks: the difference between "sympathy" and "empathy." I hope you've enjoyed the show.