The Gift of Sensitivity

An elder’s gratitude for the gift and pain of being too sensitive

Photo by Eduardo Barrios on Unsplash

I am so grateful to be sensitive. “Too sensitive” has been used as a statement toward me meant to somehow make me wrong, or less than, or defective.

My response these days to this comment ?

 I say thank you.

Thank you for seeing my sensitivity. It is one of my strengths. It is, I would venture to guess, perhaps one of the reasons that you may speak to me. Because you know that I will try my best to really hear you and understand what you are feeling. From my heart. 

I will be able to understand your pain because I have taken that journey myself, and have braced myself through the painful times and felt them. That takes courage. So thank you for recognizing the courage that it takes to be sensitive. And I encourage that for you. It is priceless, this sensitivity. 

It is not an easy road, being sensitive. It means allowing yourself to feel all the bumps, bruises, and deep losses that life brings our way. It means allowing yourself to sometimes sink into the pain and feel submerged in it. Trusting that you will emerge, because you know that you have come through this before. You have come through this, come through the pain more alive and attuned to life within you, around you, and within others. 

That is what I now will say to others, who care to listen, to what I feel about my sensitivity. How I embrace it. How I appreciate it. How I am so very grateful for it.

And now, as an elder (turning 70 in less than a week, which means more writing to come), I can pass along this hard earned wisdom to those that are younger that I see also struggling with this bittersweet gift of being too sensitive.

I volunteer at a local zoo, and a recent excruciatingly painful experience that I have been going through is the recent loss of one of our elephants. A very special creature that I have had the sacred honor to have known for 10 years.

The pain is deep, the hole is my heart is elephant sized.

 I allow it to wash over me, through me, grief coming like waves of the ocean. 

I also do my best to be present for the young zookeepers that I have the pleasure of working with and of being there for them, as we hold each other in our mutual pain and grief. 

One of these keepers, I can tell, is an extremely sensitive young woman. Tears are often just beneath the surface for her as she struggles with this harsh reality of life. 

Sometimes I simply go up to her and pull her in close and hold her for a moment. Which gives her tears permission to flow once again. We cry together. Each grieving alone and yet taking some comfort from each other.

She talked about feeling like she is too sensitive. 

And here I got the gift of being able to talk with her from my own heart, my own pain around this, my own past struggles, and my own blessed acceptance and embracing of this wonderful gift I have been given. 

I talked with her about her sensitivity being such a precious gift. 

I tell her that yes, she will feel pain acutely in her life, and will also feel the depths of joy in a way that only allowing herself to feel the pain can bring. That her life will be richer because of who she is. 

That I, much further along on the path of life that she is, can now see what this gift has given me through the years. What it continues to give me. That I wouldn’t change this part of me for anything. 

That I have been drawn to her since she arrived at the zoo, how I recognize those of my tribe. The too sensitive tribe. How special she is. How treasured she will be. What a gift to the world that she is and will continue to be. 

She cried a bit more into my arms, which was such a gift for me. 

She thanked my for my wisdom, which gave my tears even more permission to flow. 

I chose not to have children, and thus sometimes wonder about who might even want to hear what I have to say, what I have to share. What young people will want to hear what an elder woman has to say? Who will take the time?

I was drawn to stay longer at the zoo yesterday, not leaving at the end of my usual shift. I found myself wanting to stay longer to be with the elephants that are left, to share the space of missing Lisa with them. And wanting to stay for other reasons that I wasn’t exactly sure about.

And then this extraordinary encounter happened with this young zookeeper. After that, I felt ready to leave for the day. 

I treasure this moment in time that this special young woman and I shared together. This is a memory that I will take with me forever. This is a sharing of some of my experience that was heard, received, and taken in. That means more to me than I can adequately express. 

I was able to give a piece of me to someone who saw the value in it and who took some comfort in my words and presence. To let someone know how cherished they are, how special the gifts that they have been given are. How very lucky to be too sensitive. 

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