What is Empathy? What is Love?

(This column is from the August 2016 edition of Two-Lane Livin’ Magazine. You can find the digital edition of the magazine online at www.twolanelivin.com)

With the way things have been going in this country lately, it should come as no surprise that as I come into my final semester of graduate school, I find myself studying the themes of empathy and love.  Obviously, our nation is lacking, and I have actually found research, studies that prove it. A long running survey of the level of empathy in our nation shows a 40% drop in empathy over the last 37 years. Those of us who are older than 37 can surely say we have seen the effects of this decline.

But what is empathy? What is love? Ask ten different people, and you will get ten different answers. How can we understand what we are lacking if we don’t understand what these terms mean? Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another without judgment. Can you see how a shortage of this ability ends up on your evening nightly news?

Love is the will to invest in someone or something else for your own or another’s spiritual benefit. Perfect love is mutually beneficial.  Love is not some indefinable emotion that makes us crazy. Love is an action, an investment in not only ourselves, but in others. Other people, pets, environments, communities.

I recently found myself in a discussion of tolerance among a group of people, one of whom kept flicking his cigarette butts on the sidewalk as he pontificated about the hatred that seems to have erupted in our culture. We discussed the roots of hatred; a lack of understanding, a lack of empathy, a lack of respect.  Once he agreed with those as roots of hatred, I thought of an example: “Just as you hate the environment and the custodian.”

Harsh? Perhaps. Accurate? Yes, I believe so. If hatred comes from a lack of empathy, a lack of understanding, a lack of respect, then every careless, thoughtless action we take can be another wave of suffering for someone or something else. Neglect is lack of care, and without empathy (understanding others) and love (investing in others) we have become a nation of neglect. No wonder we find ourselves arguing over which lives matter.

Life matters. Love matters.

I myself have a hard time with empathy.  It’s the “without judgment” part that gives me such a hard time. But, if we are making judgments, we cannot truly understand and share the feelings of another, now can we? I have a hard time with difficult people, which I suppose, likely makes me a difficult person in my own right. But, when I asked a wise woman how she deals with difficult people, she replied, “Bless them, then release them.” In other words, extend love and empathy, and then move on. It is not up to us to judge, to fix, to enlighten those we cannot find empathy for.  For our own well being, we can extend love to them, and then move on. We do not have to allow frustration, anger, hatred, grow within us.

How many of us dispense love as a reward, and not as an investment? How many of us actively love our community or the environment around us? There are those who believe our sole purpose on this earth is to love one another-to invest in one another for the greater good.  Look at the community parks around you, most of them built or established 50 years ago. Look at the festivals that were established. Our parents and grandparents were people who loved their community.

Since the terrible flooding in West Virginia last month, I have been hooked on the stories that have been coming out of the recovering regions. They are all terrible and sad, but one story hit me hard. A couple, very aware of the nearby creek, prepared for high water.  They were responsible and caring for their animals, their vehicles, and moved and secured what they could. But it wasn’t enough. They had to flee, and their bee hives, chicken coop, home, cars, camper, were all underwater. Their hives and tens of thousands of bees were washed away, and their birds, secured in their coop, all drown. I thought of our bee hives, our hens, our home, garden, all gone-and I sobbed.  It is easy to judge those who live on the water. Why do they live there? Don’t they pay attention when it rains? But like this couple, we live near water, and we know its typical behavior. I could not judge them for being naïve, or ignorant. I could not judge them for being unaware. I knew, like us, they tried to be responsible, tried to do all the right things, and still lost all. My sobbing was empathy. I could understand and feel her devastation because that loophole of judgment no longer kept me from feeling.

How sad it takes such horrible events for us to also see love. Love as an investment. Love as an action. Neighbors helping neighbors; those with little donating time, money and supplies to those who have nothing. People investing in others’ lives, other communities, in others’ survival.  When tragedy takes away all you have, we are reminded how important-and how effective-love is.  When all else is washed away, love is what carries us through.

I am old enough to remember a time when this country had more empathy. A time when the word LOVE was on t-shirts, candles, hats, Frisbees. A time when the hit song rang out, “All you need is love.” I remember when the term “trickle-down economics” was hot, and talking money, love or empathy, it seems like very little trickles down any more.

This world needs more love, less judgment. Until then, we can have no empathy for each other, for the planet and environment around us. Where do you invest your love? Facebook? Television? How harshly do you judge those you do not understand? When was the last time you actually felt the feelings of another?

Love is an action, one we have to practice in all modes of our lives in order to have empathy in our lives and to nurture our collective spirits.  There was a time when peace and love were trendy topics, a time when they were active elements in our society. It’s time to activate them again.

  Lisa is currently working on her MFA in Creative Writing. Visit http://www.Lhayesminney.net.


It’s Swarming Season

When I decided to get chickens, Frank said, “Just remember, they’re your chickens.” But, he’s the one who gets up to let them out every morning.

When I decided we needed a cat, Frank said, “Remember, it’s an outside cat, and it’s your cat.” But, the cat wakes Frank up every morning to let her out.

When Frank decided to start keeping bees I said, “Okay, but remember, they’re your bees.”  I am sure you can tell where this is headed.


This is our original hive. We have had it four or five years now. We have lost four or five hives since then, either to the bees freezing in an early spring freeze or from colony collapse disorder.

The bottom two boxes on the hive are brood boxes. Inside are vertically hanging frames, with foundations that the bees build on. On top of those two boxes is what I call the queen screen, a screen that allows drones and worker bees into the upper boxes, but keeps the queen from traveling above the two lower boxes. Thus, the upper two boxes are filled with honey, not eggs or brood.


This hive holds the swarm we caught last year. These are all brood boxes. Because we were new at catching swarms, we weren’t ready, and when we caught the swarm, only had enough frames for the bottom box, and placed them and the branch they were on in the second box. Too slow to return to them, they had built their own comb system in the second box before we got the frames in, and so we just put the third box over that with frames and let them do their own thing in the middle.  When we feel this hive is strong enough (this is its second year), we will add a queen screen, and put boxes on top for honey collection.

(If you are wondering about the straps holding the hives down, that’s to keep the wind from blowing off the lids, toppling the hives and the local bears from easily tearing our hives apart.)

Most professional beekeepers will try to keep their hives from swarming, because it interrupts honey production, and disrupts the hive.  We don’t really follow that train of thought, because we have lost hives, and would like to replenish what we have lost. This year, we’ve made progress in doing so.


This is the hive that holds the swarm of bees that Frank’s mom and I captured two weekends ago while Frank was at work. The branch that they swarmed on was placed in the second box up, but within a day they had moved the queen into the lower box, and we were able to remove the branch and add frames to the second box. Both of these boxes will be brood boxes, and when the hive is strong enough the queen screen and another box will be added on top for honey.


This is the section of branch the bees were on in the tree, which we lowered into the second box of the hive. You can see the comb they built on the branch in one day while it was inside the hive.


This is swarm number two, yesterday, in the same tree, but much higher than the first swarm.  Frank climbed the tree, tied off the branch, cut the branch, then lowered the branch to me on the ladder below, which I helped guide to the ground. Frank then sawed the branch off on each side of the swarm while I held the branch, and we placed the branch inside the hive box waiting below.


This is the hive we placed the second swarm in. At this time, there are frames in the first and second box, but their branch is in the third box, and there are frames in the top box. We had planned to remove the branch  and yellow box today, but we had two more swarms to distract us.

The first of today’s swarms, I caught late in the process, and they were already on the move to their new location, which was uphill and through the woods. (They move up to 6 mph when swarming.) We wish them luck in their new home in the wild, where they will still serve as pollinators to our region.

The second swarm was launching when we returned, gathering in the maple tree in our yard. Frank climbed the tree, tied of the branch, cut it and lowered it to me on the ground. While I held the branch on each side of the swarm, he cut the branch ends off and we lowered the branch section and bees into the hive box.


This hive holds the swarm we caught today. The bottom box is filled with frames, and the second is partially filled with frames because we’re getting a little low on stock. The top box, at this time, holds the branch section we found them on.

By the way, that’s a swarm bucket on top of the hive.  At this point, it really has not served much purpose. I don’t know much about it. Frank’s the beekeeper around here.


Food from the Farm

Spring has arrived, and daily checks are now required at the chicken house, the asparagus bed, the shiitake shack. I have spent way too much time indoors this winter (as I do every winter), and feeling the sun on my skin, the wind on my face, is so wonderful.

I also have lettuce planted, tiny sprouts that still need protection.

Our favorite way to fix the mushrooms is to saute’ them in butter, and with the asparagus, a quick saute’ then a drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, and we’re good to go.  I found a recipe for mushroom and asparagus quiche’ I will be trying soon.

The forsythia is in bloom, and the tulips will open soon. They were rescues, thrown over a hill after their first year of bloom. I’m happy to report they will bloom again this year, though not in as pristine gardens as they had their first year.

The world around us is coming back to life, and indoor time is over.

Mountain Ink Progress

Mountain Ink

We have heard back from our editors for this year’s issue, and we have the selections and first place winners for each genre–poetry, fiction and creative nonfiction.

As we work on the layout and design of this year’s edition of Mountain Ink, we will also be preparing a press release with all the details for this issue.

We are very grateful for this year’s editors: Dr. Marjorie Stewart, Mack Samples and Virginia Rachel, for their time and effort reading and selecting from this year’s submissions.

Once this issue has been printed, we will mail copies to all authors whose works have been chosen for publication. Winners will receive their checks with their copy of the journal.


Mountain Ink 2016 Submission Period Now Closed

Our submission period for the inaugural issue of Mountain Ink is now closed. Thank-you so much for your submissions! We received over 75 works from current West Virginia residents, from ages 14 to 95.

Over the next month or so, our editors will read he submissions in their assigned genre, and select their favorites. We expect to announce our first place awards and notify those chosen to be included in the print edition. Look for the inaugural issue of Mountain Ink to be available for purchase early summer!