Spare a Thought for the Emotional First Responders

By Darius Bennett

[One must] always sing on the interest, never on the principal.”

                                                            –Leontyne Price

Most people have at least one person who is their lifeline when transiting through periods of emotional straits. The person they call when their boss has said something untoward about their performance, or if a colleague intimates that their contribution was Flower with quoteessentially inconsequential to the laudable final result. In the present difficult social and economic times, that person’s attention has become a salve for the burning irritation that sheltering at home effects on a friend’s extraversion, or in worst cases, a riverside where the professionally-displaced colleague lays down her burdens. Rightly, we acclaim medical providers as they begin yet another distressing shift on the frontlines of this global pandemic, and clap grocery workers and deliverers on the back, with socially-distant encouraging words and vocal expressions of gratitude.  But, who reinforces the emotional first responders? Those whose ears we bend, and on whose compassion we lean. Those who, with the balm of their words, palliate our stress and soothe our concerns. What is the source of the restorative herbs and infusing oils from which they gather the healing emollient that is their infinitely-compassionate listening and boundless generosity of spirit? What fills their groundwater recharge such that we can meet them at the river with our pain and find repose?

Have we taken a moment to spare a thought for the emotional first responders?

Before I became an attorney, I was a trained singer. At age 9, I began training in a community choir –back in Selma, Alabama– with a musical director who donated her time and talents to the community. She taught restless young kids the solfège, specifically how to find the next note tunefully.  I took two years off, and then continued training in high school with a retired soprano whose voice bounded octaves effortlessly to demonstrate the proper way to phrase lyrics and intone vowel sounds. I completed a final four years of training at my undergraduate, where I learned to shape notes masterfully, to match the key exactly, and to listen carefully to the surrounding voices so that our harmony could create magical, spine-tingling overtones. Every interval of training  was balanced with an indispensable period of rest. In fact, the rest was equally as important as the training. Without rest, the voice lost agility, depth, range, control and energy. It could contribute little to the movement of the music. World-renowned lirico-spintosoprano Leontyne Price, during an interview with Opera News,  was asked how she prevented the destruction of her voice, one to which many other voices eventually succumbed. She shared the greatest lesson she learned while training at Julliard, “Always sing on the interest, never on the principal.” And, that is the purpose of rest. Rest is restoration. Rest precludes exhaustion.

Emotional first responders must have time that is untroubled so that they can rest. Put away their meaningful words for a period, and regain interest.  They need time to build a principal amount of compassion, for themselves. Time to restore themselves. This means that we as friends and colleagues, sparing a thought for them, should take judiciously, and for a time not at all. We must accept that even those who give must have enforceable bounds, a place inviolate.

 Because once an emotional caregiver has expended both interests and principal, we have taken everything. There is simply nothing remaining.

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