“I . . . acknowledge the mercies of Providence in every occurrence of my life.”[i] These words from the pen of the Christian Olaudah Equiano might seem trite until we realize that they introduce the narrative of his harrowing kidnapping and enslavement.
Equiano was born free in 1745 in the kingdom of Benin on the coast of Africa, then known as Guinea. The youngest of seven children, his loving parents gave him the name Olaudah, signifying favored one. Indeed, he lived a favored life in his idyllic upbringing in a simple and quiet village where his father served as the “chief man” who decided disputes and punished crimes, and where his mother adored him dearly.
Bathed in Tears: Weeping with Those Who Weep
At age ten, it all came crashing down. “One day, when all our people were gone out to their works as usual, and only I and my dear sister were left to mind the house, two men and a woman got over our walls, and in a moment seized us both; and, without giving us time to cry out, or make resistance, they stopped our mouths, tied our hands, and ran off with us into the nearest wood: and continued to carry us as far as they could, till night came on, when we reached a small house, where the robbers halted for refreshment, and spent the night.”[ii]
His kidnappers then unbound Equiano and his sister. Overpowered by fatigue and grief, they had just one source of relief. “The only comfort we had was in being in one another’s arms all that night, and bathing each other with our tears.”[iii]
Equiano and his sister model a foundational principle of sustaining empathy: weeping with those who weep. Far too often we rush in with words, and far too often those words are words of rescue. Our hurting friends need our silence, not our speeches. The shed tear and the silent voice provide great enrichment for our spiritual friends.