Even the name is forgotten now. A small town in the west of Ireland and going to the Sunday morning service at the Church of Ireland church. There were perhaps two dozen in the congregation. The ageing rector, an avuncular figure, preached on the text, “Brethren, be sober be vigilant because your adversary the devil like a roaring lion walketh about.” The sermon was brief and the entire proceedings were complete in forty minutes, as the clergyman walked briskly to his car to drive to the next distant church.
There came an overwhelming sense of sadness for this man, who was a complete stranger, spending his autumn years among a fading community. The next day, the man was to be spotted walking cheerily from the newsagent back to the Victorian rectory, the day’s edition of the Irish Times under his arm. There was a desire to run across the road and speak to him, to talk to him about discouragement. But it was 1984 and such things were not discussed, and what would a twenty three year old know of discouragement? Furthermore, what if the man did not feel discouraged, what if he was like one of the many farmers who know they will be the last in their line to farm the land, but nevertheless enjoy their daily work?
The propensity to feel the imagined pain of others has not dissipated. There is no need for an actual encounter, no need to know anything of the person, it has become possible to be anxious about complete strangers, who, almost certainly, feel no such anxiety themselves. To wake fearful of what someone is not thinking is illogical in the extreme. Nor need it be present situations, unhappiness about imagined experiences in long past unknown situations is not unusual; visceral dislike of unknown people is possible.
A psychologist would undoubtedly have a name for such thought processes, there would be suggestion that a transference is taking place, that one’s own insecurities and pains are being projected onto others as a way of somehow dealing with them. A psychiatrist would be able to write a prescription for the medication required to bring about a change in the chemical processes in the brain that underlie the thoughts.
But is that all the human brain is? Just an assemblage of matter and fluids that needs a touch of fine tuning at times? Is all our thinking just a matter of chemistry and electricity? Even though it might mean all the irrationality and absurd thinking, is there no space left for “me”?