Would You like to Dance? –
At a party at a friend’s house, one woman sat alone on the couch, her crutches beside her, watching the others dance. From across the room a man made his way to her, sat down, introduced himself and they made small talk. After a while, he asked; “Would you like to dance?” She pointed to her crutches and sighed; “Most people are worried my crutches will get in the way of their dancing.” He smiled and replied; “How about if I let you lead and I’ll move with you?”
This story was told to me a few weeks ago. I have been reflecting on it since I heard it. Most people are injured in some way; physically, emotionally or spiritually. We have crutches, not in a negative way, but in the sense that we need help to heal. However, too often, because of our hurts, habits, and hang-ups or the aids we use to walk this road of life we’re seen as a hindrance. People focus on how another’s imperfections will impact their lives.
What we need is someone who will let us lead or, if we’re the one helping, let the other lead us. We relinquish our desire to control, force someone to do it “our way” and by letting go we will find synergy and companionship.
I heard a story today about a chaplain who worked in a veteran’s hospital in the 1950’s. There was an African-American soldier in the hospital who had lost a leg in the Korean War. The physical therapists had worked with him trying to get him used to wear a prosthetic leg. Both the soldier and medical personnel tried everything they could think of but nothing worked and the soldier was ready to give up and live life with one leg and crutches for the rest of his life.
The chaplain was made aware of the situation and stopped by soldier’s bed one night to see if he could be of any help. “I can still feel my leg, my real leg!” the soldier cried. “It’s a phantom pain.” replied the chaplain, “It will go away in time.” “That leg!” retorted the soldier gesturing toward the prosthetic one, “will never be ‘my’ leg.” After visiting with the young man the chaplain prayed with him and asked if he could take the prosthetic one with him. The soldier responded with a shrug.
The next day the chaplain returned with the same leg except it was painted a shade of brown to more closely match the soldier’s own skin tone. “What did you do?” asked the perplexed soldier. The chaplain, hoping he hadn’t offended the young man said he took it home with him and thought painting it might make it seem more palatable. “That’s all you did?” asked the soldier admiring the leg. “That’s it.” smiled the chaplain. The chaplain helped the young man to the side of the bed, attached the leg, helped him take his first few steps and from that day forward the soldier made remarkable progress.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. The chaplain helped the soldier not by insisting he use resources given to him by the hospital but by listening and understanding what the soldier was going through and then adapting his help to the soldier’s personal, unique need.
Too often we see people who need assistance and we automatically assume there are places and resources that are available. We surmise that if someone wants help enough they’ll figure out how to get it. The truth is everyone’s story is unique and unless we listen, understand and are willing to personally get involved many will go on suffering and being blamed for doing so.