On Learning Empathy for Writers and Everyone

One of the many things I appreciate about Andi Cumbo-Floyd’s Love Letters to Writers is that her new book is about much more than writing. Andi writes about life–including her life on a farm, on dealing with disappointment and loss, on living with good grace and love. Both her experience as a writer and her personal warmth shine on every page.

Whether you’re a writer or not, I trust you’ll be inspired by what Andi says here about learning empathy for others. Welcome, Andi! Thank you for your friendship and for this guest post that’s filled with your gentle humour and love.

Dear Beautiful Writers,

When I was a child on road trips with my family – always to historical sites, for the record – I would watch power lines or parallel road beds, trying to see where they went when they diverged from the road I was on.  I knew there were stories there, stories I would never know but wanted to.  In some ways, this gazing at other paths was my first work as a writer.

That wanting to understand other’s stories was deepened by my mother, who insisted I empathize with other people in every situation. For her, empathy was a work of her deep faith, and she wanted that for her children.  My first memory of her teaching me to really think about other people’s feelings, to try and feel as they felt, came when I was about 5 or 6 years old. Our neighbors were going back to Florida for the winter, and I wanted to write them a note because my brother and I spent a lot of time at their house playing backgammon and holding their Yorkshire terrier Winston.  

Here’s what I wrote:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. W,

We will miss you.  Mr. W, try to lose some weight while you’re in Florida.  

Love,

Andi

My mom read that note and immediately sat me down. “Andi, how would you feel if someone wrote that to you? Imagine what it would feel like to have someone you love tell you that the one thing they wanted for you was for your body to be different.”  She stared at me with her one blue and one brown eye, asking me to get it, to know how Mr. W. might feel, and in my tiny-bodied self, I did.  Tears came to my eyes, and I realized how awful my attempt at humor must have been.  

I rewrote the note.

In some ways, I’ve been working to reach that level of empathy in everything I write – and rewrite ever since.  For me, writing is an act of empathy, an act of understanding myself and others. It’s the work I have to do to love like Jesus loved because, well, I’m a broken human being who is trying to do better.  

When I write, I want the foundation of my words to be understanding. I want to seek to love every person I put on the page – including myself – as Jesus loves us all.  So while I don’t write very often about my faith overtly – I’m not what most people would call a “Christian writer” – I hope that my faith colors my words with love. I hope that when people read what I write – even when it’s challenging – they know that at the core I am seeking to live as Jesus has asked me to live – with a wide-open heart dedicated to love.

Friends, love – real, hard, edgy love – that’s really the only thing worth writing for, isn’t it?

Much love,

Andi

Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a writer, editor, and farmer who lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains with her husband, four dogs, four cats, six goats, three rabbits, and thirty-six chickens.  She writes regularly about writing at Andilit.com.

Read more of Andi’s beautiful writing in Love Letters to Writers.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: What life experiences have taught you to have empathy for others?

Disclosure: Thank you to Andi for providing me with an advance copy of her book.  My comments and the decision to review are my own.

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4 replies

  1. Love Andi’s beautiful words in print and in person! Thanks April!

  2. Wow, it’s as if she took the words right out of my mouth! “to love like Jesus loved because I’m a broken human being who is trying to do better.” I’m putting that book on my Christmas wish list!

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