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  • This morning I saw a video. A woman missed a ferry by a few short minutes and dissolved into a sea of tears, right there in a public space filled with strangers. One of those strangers recorded her and she went viral. Thirty seconds of real-time anguish endlessly looped on the internet.

    I try to be gentle as I shake my head at the people who show up in droves to laugh together at a person in pain, knowing that I've been there, too. I wonder when I got too old to enjoy schadenfreude, and too tenderhearted to be unaffected by those who do. Some of it I understand; it's different to laugh at a bad idea turned worse and the hard lessons that follow. We've all been there, uncomfortably poking fun at ourselves when something turns out wrong, letting humor dilute the pain of a mistake. Those make sense to me.

    But not the times when we don't know what would make a person lose herself in grief, for example, over a boat she missed. You don't know what this means to people she wailed, and we don't. We don't know what was waiting for her on the other shore, and what she missed with that boat. I imagine the things that would make me forget myself so completely as to cry like she did: someone was dying, someone was leaving, someone needed me and I wasn't there. I don't know, those other strangers don't know. We only know that it wasn't our pain, and we revel in that moment of relief. And if in that moment we forget to muster compassion, sometimes, even though we know that we shouldn't, we laugh.
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