Blundering into Sacred Spaces

I met someone the other day who went on to tell me he’d been in hospital for quite some time and that that’s why he hadn’t been around for so long.

Now what do you do when someone says something like that to you? Do you ask what was wrong, or do you say something like, “O, I’m so sorry to hear that. I hope you’re feeling a lot better now.”

I chose the latter. To have asked what was wrong would have been intrusive, I thought, but I couldn’t help wonder whether by not asking I came across as rather uninterested and uncaring. I’m glad I didn’t ask though. I feel it was the better choice.

Driving home I pondered on the thin line between sounding uninterested and being intrusive. It’s a conversational sensitivity we need to develop. Without it, surely we blunder in to sacred spaces we have no business entering.

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About Don

I love life. Sometimes it makes sense, other times not. Discerning its underlying patterns and beauty always provides great reward and meaning and is a passion I ineptly follow. I feel deeply attached to nature and love the sea with its distinct moods and colour and find walking along its beaches wonderfully inspiring. Writing, sketching and photography is a sheer joy for me and the blog is one of the places I am able to express these pursuits.
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29 Responses to Blundering into Sacred Spaces

  1. ptero9 says:

    I’m with you here Don. It’s a tough call. I truly want to be available to people, but would never want to seemingly make someone feel uncomfortable.

    What to do?

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  2. renxkyoko says:

    You’re correct. And I’m sure the person knows it.

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  3. Good point, Don. Respond out of respect and genuine concern, never out of curiosity. We usually add something like, “Is there anything we can do to help?” (but only because we are sincere and willing to help out with anything we need.) We’ve found that very often that’s all it takes to learn that yes, they do need someone to help on Thursday when their daughter needs a ride home after school, or it would mean a lot if we could pick up a relative at the airport who is coming to help, etc. We don’t offer to maneuver them into telling details; we offer because we do care and are very willing to help do something that will make things easier.

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  4. In my experience, Don, those emerging from such circumstances are going to volunteer that information whether asked or not – if that is their intention. Ergo, the safe engagement is the one you chose.

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  5. I heard Roshi Joan Halifax tell a story about something she said in a crisis situation with this caveat – ‘This is not a prescription for what you should say in a similar situation.’ It was a spur of the moment response but said with probably years of practice, of being present and also failing to be. I think that is the challenge – to try to be present enough to be open to saying what needs to be said or doing the same. It sounds like you made the right choice. I have a feeling you will recognize it again when another moment like this arises.

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    • Don says:

      “I think that is the challenge – to try to be present enough to be open to saying what needs to be said or doing the same.”

      Love the way this is expressed. I think that’s precisely it. Thank you.

      Like

  6. Hudson Howl says:

    Men find this situation awkward. Women handle it differently. As Marylin mention, I think a women is more apt to ‘maneuver’ the situation or conversation to help another, to listen; an innate need to help on a practical level and on a emotional level. They do without thinking, it comes natural. Men do as you just did , to consider the line. Is it a conversation skill or a fear of intimacy -to openly show compassion and concern.

    Today while in a hardware store, a women came up to me. “There wasn’t a sale person to be seen” and with a smile said “You looked reasonably intelligent”. With two sump pumps in her arms she wondered if i could help her decided which was better or if they would even do the job she needed to do. As we talked, I learned that her husband recently died some what expectantly due to an infection after what suppose a fairly normal operation. I expressed my condolence, how sorry I was for her loss. We were strangers to each other, yet we talked about the struggles she was having maintaining her home. A home her husband wanted her to stay in an enjoy. It was obvious she at the moment was overwhelmed. It was enlightening conversation about everyday struggles.

    In the end the sump pump was decided on, she took my hand, “am Mariann, thank you for your help and for listening”. I said, “am Calvin, your very welcome, good luck with the pump, hang in there, hang tough”. We went our way.

    Now upon reading your post, I don’t recall wondering about a line or feeling awkward. It just came natural. Your absolutely right, that is the way it should be.

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    • Don says:

      Natural encounters like these, Calvin, are so healing and life-giving. You’re right. There’s something so natural about what happened between you and that woman. Thank you for describing that story in such a beautiful way.

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  7. nrhatch says:

    Good call, Don. I expect he would have volunteered more info if he needed to get it off his chest.

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  8. ladyfi says:

    I think it all depends on how well you know that person.

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  9. Mary says:

    It’s always a fine line, a balancing act so to speak in many conversations of those we hardly know and the people close to us. We cross it everyday and hope that the person on the receiving end accepts it in the manner it was given. I was scorched once with a blistering response – that feeling has never left me.

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    • Don says:

      Yes, I agree with you Mary, it is something we can cross every day. I know something of what you mean in your last sentence. Thank you for sharing this.

      Like

      • Anonymous says:

        In this instance Don, I think it would have been o.k. to enquire what the problem was. The fact that he volunteered the information in the first place I see as an indication that he was opening up to you. But I agree with Hudson, men and women handle situations differently.
        Most men would do just what you did while a woman would
        probably say “Oh I hope it wasn,t serious”and then leave it
        up to them to take it further or leave it there. There,s no
        right or wrong way though, its just something you feel your
        way through

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      • Don says:

        “Oh I hope it wasn’t serious” – I really like that response. It keeps it open and invites a further response. I agree with you, it is a feeling your way through. Thank you. Not sure if you wanted to be Anonymous. If so that’s fine.

        Like

  10. Anonymous says:

    I,m not sure how I,ve suddenly become anonymous Don.How do I reverse it? .

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  11. Espirational says:

    I’m not sure the idea that if someone wants you to know more they will tell you still holds today. People are so angry and can be downright mean, even to people who are or have been ill. Perhaps giving just a tiny bit of information is a way of “testing the waters” to see how you react and if you are a safe person to tell more. I was shocked at how mean spirited people could be when Bob first became ill. I am sure some people react that way out of fear and the knowledge that the same thing could happen to them, but those reactions make dealing with an already difficult situation even more difficult. It also makes an individual less likely to share or seek much needed support.

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    • Don says:

      Thank you for your very thoughtful comment, Rogene. Your description of the “testing the waters” for me is so true. I think that’s precisely what people often do. I think it is so tragic when one in his or her vulnerability still has to become the victim of mean spiritedness. So sad. I hope Bob is doing well, Rogene and thank you for sharing in the way you have. Your comment is deeply appreciated.

      Like

  12. Val Boyko says:

    Its a fine line Don … and varies across cultures as well. Empathy always come first. Its from the heart. Curiosity comes from the head, as does fear and discomfort.
    I would say good call, no matter where you are in the world 🙂
    p.s. Thank you for following my blog http://www.FindYourMiddleGround.com
    Val x

    Like

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