Home » Blog » Book Musings » Empathy, the Hero Maker

Empathy, the Hero Maker

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

“In the course of a lifetime, there were some things that mattered” (Walk Two Moons).

I’ll admit it up front, before reading this I thought it was a science fiction book. I have no excuse for it. But, well, there was the whole “two moons” thing and that seemed space-like and I didn’t read any blurbs or reviews, so I didn’t know better. The title makes perfect sense to me now, of course, but it’s not science fiction.

I probably wouldn’t even have read this book if I had known that in advance because I was in the mood for something totally made up at the time. I don’t regret my mistake one bit. Whether you are in the mood for sci-fi or anything else, if you have not read Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, I’ll recommend that you do.

It’s a book intended for young adult readers, but there is a lot there for all ages. The tone reminded me of Peace Like a River (Leif Enger), which was a worthwhile book to read as well (two recommendations in one post! Lucky you!). I enjoy these flowing, first-person narratives through the newness and discovery of young eyes looking at parts of the world for the first time.

Salamanca (Sal) is the young protagonist of the book and the narrative follows her growth as a person in the face of tragedy.

What I liked: Some Spoilers

Don’t read this part if you haven’t read the book and you don’t like spoilers. I won’t reveal anything too important but skip on down to “Empathy: Some Thoughts” if you need to.

First a comment about the writing. I liked getting Sal’s perspective and I loved that I only knew what she knew. I discovered the truth along with her, which kept me guessing (usually incorrectly). That’s a challenging type of narrative to create while also keeping the text engaging. Creech pulls it off expertly.In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

I was about one-third of the way through the book and was starting to have some very judgmental feelings towards Sal’s mom. By that point, I was certain I knew enough to condemn her. And I was totally wrong. To me, that is evidence of an expert author at work. By the end, my opinion had changed 180 degrees and I felt a little guilty for my earlier conclusions.

Not only was I completely wrapped up in the story, I also learned for myself the actual moral Creech was portraying. Namely not to judge someone until you had spent some time seeing things from their perspective. That’s the “walk two moons” part of it, borrowing some Native American phraseology regarding months.

Half the story is spent on Sal as she drives with her grandparents to see her mother. The other half is spent in Sal’s memory as she relives time spent with her friend Phoebe. I really enjoyed the interweaving of these two threads. Both stories, meandering at first, eventually unite to reveal the same moral offered from the perspective of a young girl. The lessons learned with Phoebe are naive and awakening contrasted to those learned in the “present” that stem from the cold reality of life taken too soon.

Empathy: Some Thoughts

The central theme of Walk Two Moons is empathy, alluded to (very subtly) by the title. Sal repeatedly recites variants of the phrase “Don’t judge a man until you’ve walked two moons in his moccasins.” There are other renditions of this phrase around, but they all mean the same thing. Until we can see life from another person’s perspective, we can’t understand who they are or how they came to be that way.

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that matteredUnderstanding a situation from another person’s perspective is called empathy. It’s no simple skill to acquire. I title this post “Empathy, the Hero Maker” because the people that do the most good are those that can seek to understand. My heroes are those whose first thoughts are “why is she like that” or “how can I help him”?

Sal is the protagonist of Walk Two Moons, but as she grows up throughout its pages, she also becomes heroic. She comes to understand that snap judgments and her own long-held ideas are not always right, even though they feel right. Once she starts to see how to be empathetic and begins to find value in doing so, she becomes a positive influence on her friends and family.

Maybe the most important thing that happens to Sal once she learns empathy is that she finally can forgive. She finds a way to forgive her mother, which was difficult for her. Forgiveness healed her soul, which had been suffering for a long time.

And then she forgives her father, which healed her most important relationship. These kinds of changes, which we all need to make, are not easy for anyone. Inevitably with empathy comes a measure of humility. Or possibly it takes some humility to acquire empathy. Either way, they go together. I don’t think it’s possible to really have empathy and also retain a sense of arrogance or pride.

Personal Growth: Some Lessons

In the end, Walk Two Moons was about personal growth. Sal learns a variety of lessons, more than I can include here. One that I like is “We never know the worth of water until the well is dry.” I love the simplicity of that statement as well as the depth of meaning. In Much Ado About Nothing it’s stated less simply, but I’m quoting it anyway because I like Shakespeare:

For it so falls out

That what we have we prize not to the worth

Whiles we enjoy it, but being lacked and lost,

Why then we rack the value, then we find

The virtue that possession would not show us

Whiles it was ours.

I love the thought both ways. We should not let the commonness of the good things in life blind us to their goodness.

Hand-in-hand with this thought is the quote I opened with, “In the course of a lifetime, there were some things that mattered.” For many of us, it is easy to lose sight of the value of the good things we have because we fill up our days with distractions of little consequence.

I do it myself. My article on Fahrenheit 451 touches on this from a different angle. There are things that matter in life, and there are things that don’t. Does it matter if you work hard?

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

I say it does. But does it matter what your work is? Not as much. There is value in hard work, in effort and achievement, but we place too much emphasis on certain fields rather than on the quality of work itself.

The easiest tack to take on this concerns things, that is to say, material wealth. Does it matter what we have, or is the real substance found in what you do with what you have? For some that is a rhetorical question, for others, an inane one. For me, intellectually and rationally, I believe it only matters what we do with what we have. Applying that principle in practice is another story.

What Really Matters

For Salamanca in Walk Two Moons, being able to forgive and understand her mother was a thing that mattered. It mattered the most and it made all the difference.

For me, I think we can learn from this short but profound story. First, be empathetic. Empathy matters. In the course of your lifetime, empathy will matter forever. Care about someone else and try to see things from their perspective before judging. If we do that, I think we will have less conflict and more happiness.

I believe that applies personally and globally. We need more heroes in the world, and to get those, we need more empathy. Empathy is the hero-maker. With it, we can see beyond our self, and we will feel the need to make a difference. We must be willing to lift someone else up because we understand that they need us.

Second, in the course of your life find the things that matter. And once you find them, make them the things that matter the most to you. I have heard the quote before “you will never look back at your life and wish you had spent more time at the office.” Time with our loved ones has to be one of the things in our life that matters most. In fact, we need to make it that way.

I highly recommend you take a few hours and read Walk Two Moons. Then spend a little time on introspection afterwards. I learned a lot from doing both.

In the course of a lifetime there were some things that mattered

 

 

Please leave a comment below on what you think. If you’ve already read Walk Two Moons, what was your take on it? Also take a minute and subscribe to my blog so you never miss a post.

 

 

Photo credits:

Pond Photo by Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho on Visualhunt / CC BY

Moccasins Photo by TracyKoPhoto on VisualHunt / CC BY

Starscape Photo by j-dub1980 on VisualHunt / CC BY-SA

 

8 comments

  1. Vashti Q says:

    Hello Eric! Thanks for the review! Walk Two Moons reads fascinating and empathy is something we can definitely have more of in the world. Love the quote in the beginning.

  2. Marci says:

    This book was a required read for my daughter when she was in 6th grade, so I was trying to read it through her eyes. I was sad to see a mother trying to hide something from her family and in a situation the author leads you to think, could be inappropriate. For an adult, I love this book for the “don’t judge a person until you are in their shoes” idea. I think there are better books for young 6th graders.

  3. D.L Finn, Author says:

    Great review and quote. There was a lot of depth and insight in that single line by Walk Two Moons. That resonated deeply with me. I am adding it to read during the Holiday season. Thanks

  4. sherisown says:

    I read this book many years ago, but I remember one thing, I was constantly being surprised. There is something about a story that is genuinely unpredictable. Like you, I was feeling Sal’s frustration and anger at things she truly didn’t understand. It was wonderful to learn along the way with her. 😊Thanks for the book review

Make a comment, start a discussion