Carol Burnette once said, "If you want to understand the pain of giving birth, grab your bottom lip and pull it over your head". These words of wisdom came to Bill Cosby during the birth of his first child when he recalled being supportive and encouraging to his wife. As his words of encouragement only caused agitation to his dear wife he says, "She stood up in the stirrups, grabbed my bottom lip, and waited for one final contraction...."
I guess misery loves company sometimes more than it loves empathy.
There are just some things that you have to experience to truly appreciate and if the best you can do is observe from afar, your best efforts to empathize will fall flat.
In just a week my wife will run in her first marathon. She has been extremely diligent in her training, she has improved in her ability to run long distances, and has even been able to improve her time per mile. Last week she asked me to join her as she completed a 20 mile run. By join her, that meant to hop on my bike and ride while she ran. Do you know how hard it is to ride 20 miles at runner's pace? After 10 miles I began feeling the pain in my back side, 15 miles led to sore wrists, and by the time my wife casually ran 18 miles, the sun was beating down on me and was causing great discomfort. Throughout the process I tried to keep encouraging my wife as she ran but for some reason, each mile she ran she was less interested in hearing me talk and even less interested in hearing me say something encouraging like, "You only have 5 more miles to go" or, "That first 19 miles went by like a breeze." No matter how much I tried to be encouraging, it was met with indifference. This made me recall the process of sitting with my wife while giving birth (while she gave birth). No amount of, "you are doing great", or "just a little more" can help the situation. The best I could do was to sit there in silence knowing that this is not the time for empathy, it is the time for silence. Without ever experiencing the process of giving birth, one cannot relate unless he pulls his bottom lip over his head. Running a marathon is very similar and that is why when WE completed OUR 20 mile training run I told my wife how great she did, she leaned over to me bringing her lips close to mine, and then she gently put her hands on my face, grabbed my bottom lip and pulled.