“He jests at scars that never felt a wound” or why compassion for
others may be something only learned the hard way.
I finally had to bite the bullet this last week and face my nemesis. Well, one of them. This is my fifth season teaching the summer school and until last week I’ve avoided doing a lesson on Romeo and Juliet. I hate this play with a passion. Truly. But the previous day’s lesson could really only be followed up with a lesson with the theme of LOVE and inevitably that ends up leading to that play.
I hate it for a number of reasons, and the sheer stupidity of this
fiction that dying for love is somehow supremely romantic is one of
them. I have almost no romantic bone in my body. To me, there is
little more futile than suicide because of thwarted or lost love. I’m
fully sympathetic with those who feel this way; it’s not them who I
have issues with but rather the media and the culture that seems to
glorify this as the ultimate romantic gesture(albeit a truly tragic
The lesson went well. I avoided the bear-traps of sex and the Shakespeare was pleasingly incomprehensible. But one line jumped off the page at me. I’ve not touched the play since university and it isn’t one I’ve ever read for pleasure. But, “he jests at scars that never felt a wound,” from Act 2 scene 2, made me shiver a little, bringing back memories I’d rather forget.
After my own pathetic attempt to take my own life all but one of the people I came into contact with in hospital were very kind to me. The one who was not was a night nurse who disparaged me, to my face and told me I was just another silly girl who ought to know better. She mocked me. Over the intervening years, I’ve pondered why she was so mean towards me.
This line from Shakespeare told me why. Unless you are naturally very empathetic, understanding someone else’s pain can only come from a place of experience. And if you have not experienced something closely similar, then there is a real chance that someone else’s reactions to a heartbreak may well seem silly or over-dramatic. We do not have hearts that bruise at the same rate; what hurts me may not even touch another. What pains you may not even be something I notice.
I took a small risk and very briefly told my students of my experience, at roughly the same age as they are now and how, within weeks of that my whole life was transformed and how. Never give up, I told them, never let go of hope for better. Everyone needs to have their heart broken at least once in a lifetime because it teaches you compassion, I said.
I hope they remember this, if nothing else, from their stay in England.