• Keren

Being an Empath at the Public Library

Updated: Jul 6, 2019

Working at a public library allows encounters with all sorts of people and their current moods. Us part timers have a wonderful comradery, since we often spend most of our work days on the front lines staffing the service desks while most of the part timers only deal with this for 1-2 hours of their work day. Debbie is one of my “library moms”, meaning she has daughters that are my age, and that she protects me from the cold hands of the public when she’s able to.

I’ve always had a hard time with absorbing the moods of those that approach me, or are in my immediate area for a certain amount of time. Some people would call this being an empath, I’ve read about this term on many a new age blog, or psychology website. It’s tricky, if somebody around me is angry, or sad, or just in a hurry, it really frazzles my circuits. One time this particularly angry patron yelled at another girl who was just trying to get past her in the aisle, and I straight cried at my desk, in front of everybody. Why? Because her anger was so sharp I felt it, like small pin pricks all over my body. I used to try to hide this because I felt like it made me weak, or strange, but now I’m old and tired and just don’t have the energy. But you know, I just tell myself I’m sensitive, and chalk it up to that.

Last week I was sitting at the reference desk with Debbie when a man, probably mid-thirties, tall with dark hair and a grey sweatshirt, comes over and forcefully says.

“I just made this reservation for the computer and it gave me 2, and I don’t want to sit by 2 he’s a fucking creep. Can you put me at another computer, I just can’t sit by that guy.”

He leans forward to shove the receipt with his reservation information towards me so I can comply with his demands, and in the process accidentally hits one of the glittery pumpkins on the side of the desk launching it towards my face. It falls short and bounces once against the surface of the desk in front of my arm. I jump. Then I take the receipt and click around on the computer, but go to the wrong screen, and forget what I’m doing. I literally get about 20 degrees hotter, feel my face flush with panic, and try to breathe to get through this and it’s all within a second or two but it feels like a decade and then I hear Debbie.

“Sir we can cancel this, and you don’t need a reservation that lab isn’t full so let us cancel this and then you can sit wherever you like.”

Thank fucking god for Debbie.

“Yeah, well, like I said that guy is a real creep. I deal with enough of that shit every day I don’t want to deal with that shit here.”

I get my bearings and cancel the reservation and he goes into the lab and away from us.

“He’s the real fucking creep.” I say under my breath.

Debbie and I have a good laugh about it, but really, she’s done this so many times. Like last month when some woman yelled at me because we didn’t have that book that explains what you are voting on that she could take home with her. Sure we had a reference copy if she wanted to use it in the library which I told her, and all the information is online which I offered to show her how to access (even as she’s attacking me verbally). But she yelled, and using her subtext, called me a snowflake without words while demanding that I give her information on where she could find her nearest Republican constituent. As if I was some sort of scheming liberal trying to keep her from her god given right to vote. Debbie comes over to the desk at this point and saves the day by seeing the look on my face, scattered brain and shuts her down like a pro.

As we sit Debbie tells me about her daughter, who is just like me, which is why she’s able to recognize what’s happening to me during these seemingly unimportant daily interactions. She calls it a sieve, or colander effect, where most people have a sort of wall, or end to where their energy field it, and people like me and her daughter have more of a colander, with holes in it, and there’s nothing we can do about it, but try to remember where we end and what emotions really belong to us. Which let me tell you, is quite difficult at times.

It actually seems kind of bleak if you ask me, that I walk around all day just picking up pieces of other people and letting them pass through me like I’m some sort of subway grate, but I don’t have a choice. As I’m sitting there, just processing how I’m just going to be like this forever she says:

“Well, even though you get the bad coming through, you get the good stuff too.”

Debbie always has this way of putting things that make me feel better. It still took me another hour to recover from the pumpkin incident though.

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