Whenever I switch cars, I have this odd experience; maybe you can relate. You’re driving around in your new vehicle, and suddenly you see your same make and model EVERYWHERE! “I didn’t know there were so many of these on the road!” you think. It’s a weird little consumer-based “empathy,” so odd, because we don’t usually think of empathy as having component parts, in this case recognition sans emotion or outreach.
Empathy, in each of us, has its dimensions, and they increase with aging, as we experience struggle, triumph, love, and especially loss. As an example, if you have lost a loved one to cancer, and later one of your friends announces that someone s/he loves has been diagnosed, you feel for your friend. You remember every moment of your family’s agony, from the medical appointments and the hospital smells to faint glimmers of hope you leapt at, to the day you sat down with yourself and said, “This is happening.” Then the aftermath, what that loss did to your family. Life goes on, but that loss stands like a stone arch between you and the person you were before. You know the dimensions of your empathy around cancer.
Imagine an unspeakable family trauma that lasts a lifetime. What would be the dimensions of grief and of empathy resulting from that? I have a friend whose brother suffered traumatic brain injury at birth, such that he has been institutionalized his entire life. Not only does he require constant professional care, but he is, for all intents and purposes, unresponsive. She loves him.
For a young girl in a lively Irish/Italian family, it must have been hard to accept or even comprehend how this boy could be so set apart from his own loved ones, missing the events, the personalities, the memories. As she grew older, she must have begun to calculate all that he was missing against the various opportunities that came her way. I believe that early on she dedicated herself to living a bigger, more aspirational and generous life, as if to live for the two of them, herself and her beloved brother. She knew that a life dedicated to accumulating wealth would not be a worthy choice for the two of them. Having never not known profound grief and its counterpart, selfless, helpless love, she chose a life that matched the dimensions of her empathy.
Her name is Tracy Mitrano. A long life of service as a sister, a mother, a teacher, and a leader has brought her to this time when she offers her hard-earned education and experience, her (desperately needed) expertise in cyber security policy, her insight as an historian, and most of all, her profound empathy as a fellow traveler to us, the voters of NY Congressional District 23. Mitrano wants to represent the Southern Tier, Finger Lakes, and Western NY in Congress so she can speak for us in the place where systemic change becomes possible according to our system: the U.S. House of Representatives.
I can hear the backlash already. She’s strumming on our heart strings! Using her brother as a tool in her campaign. She is not. If you believe that you have to be a scoundrel to want to work in government, I’m sorry for you. Tracy does not know I am writing about this, and I hope she will forgive the intrusion into her privacy. But I’ve been watching her for a few years now, trying to understand what it is about this person that is so magnetic. I have often encouraged her by saying “when people meet you, they will vote for you.” I believe this, and here’s why: yes, her intelligence is striking; yes, her resume is formidable; but it’s her empathy that pulls you in. Not that she’s a “bleeding heart,” whatever that is. She’s a determined, talented woman who sees and feels the suffering of others and believes she can make things better. This is the fire in her belly. If you’ve paid attention to her dizzying schedule and her exhaustive understanding of issue after issue, you know there’s a fire there. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor. Get out to an event near you and meet Tracy Mitrano. You may end up feeling as if you’ve known her all along. Empathy works that way.
This article was written by Lee Marcus is a writer, artist, and activist who lives in Steuben County.