Blow Over –
I have a confession. I don’t like air dryers in public restrooms. They either blow too lightly and just move the water further up your arm or they’re so powerful they make the skin on your hands look like ripples on a lake. I would rather have paper towels. They’re quicker and paper towels are something you can grip, and apply as much or little pressure as you like. You can get them into the crevices and all sides of your hands. When you finish you crumple them up and throw them away,
Today, at a community baby shower in Coffee county, Tennessee, there were booths and tables all over the local mall. Parents, expectant parents and anyone else could discover a lot of information and hands on experience from family experts. Every booth or table had free giveaways. Our table had books and free book bags for families if you listened to my “speech” to help dads understand the importance of reading and being involved in the education of their children.
Each of the community and faith-based organizations were there to help. They allowed parents to know the help and support that was available in the community. The baby shower itself was like a blower in a bathroom covering a lot of things but to get the full coverage, the assistance a family might require, a follow-up would be needed. An opportunity for the organization to get more than a name and contact information. A chance for the family to see the organization in action.
Wisdom teaches us that we must be careful not just to “blow over” each other with banal gestures of friendliness but rather to connect with others in a deep way. Our relationships are not to be a mile wide and an inch deep.
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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.