Yesterday afternoon I read a poem about a mother who lost her teenage son in a drowning accident. By the end of the poem all of the emotion in my body (from stomach to heart to throat) made a grand and instant rush north to my tear ducts. For several minutes I ached. I felt cracked and bereaved. Somehow--in some metaphysical way--this mother's tsunami of grief had found its way into my body.

This morning, I read a blog post by a woman I admire but whom I've never met. She wrote "the past 3 weeks since my husband left me have been a whirlwind ..."

After decades of marriage, her husband left her?

I was still and quiet and disbelieving. Then, the tsunami. For those few minutes the emotional rush disorientated me; I felt jagged. Amputated. Alone. I have never met this woman, and she has no idea who I am, yet I was trying to manage the reverberating ache of her pain within my own body.

How does this happen? How is it that someone else's emotion becomes our collective experience? It's as if someone near us exhales and her sadness is a stowaway nestled among the particles of her breath. If we are present (physically or otherwise), we inhale her breath and then embody her heartache.

This afternoon my cell phone chirped. I looked down to see a picture of my best friend's baby boy, born just this morning. And there it was for the third time--that tsunami and those tears. But instead of distress I was washed over with wonder. I was filled. Elated. Her newborn gift was, in some very poignant way, my gift as well.

Come sorrow or joy, this capacity we have as humans to take upon ourselves the emotional depth of another person is a mystery for which I am ever grateful.