Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

Say Something

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When I was little I told my mom I felt melancholy.  This amused her partly because the word I used had more letters than I had candles on my birthday cake.  Also, I mispronounced it using the ch-sound instead of leaving the H silent, the way I would have had I been talking about a cute little collie instead of a sad emotion. Whoever came up with the correct pronunciation should have probably considered the imagery the word invokes – at least to a little girl who happened to love dogs.

Words have incredible power to hurt, comfort, entertain, enrage and enlighten us.  Yet, they don’t mean much if they never get expressed.  It’s like a child in the womb who holds the promise of life, but is never born.  The silence of that void is not ever heard in the noise of our world, and as such, we will never really know how that alters our existence.

So it is, when we are stingy with our words of praise, thanksgiving and comfort.  We leave untouched an opportunity to make someone’s life better – even for a moment, and sometimes it’s the moment that is hardest to get through.

Recently, someone had apologized to me for not talking to me at an event we were both at.  I didn’t talk to her either, so she had nothing to apologize for and there were many people at the occasion that I knew but did not speak to and vice-versa.  It was one of those parental obligations we had to attend, and most of us only talked with people in our vicinity.  There was no social faux-pas on her part, or hurt feelings on mine.apology

Still, I was ashamed that she apologized to me when I was the one who needed to tell her that I was sorry.

You see, she has cancer, and I had yet to acknowledge this.  Since I found out from someone else, I wasn’t sure if she was keeping her illness private so I kept quiet.

In retrospect, that sounds like a lame excuse.  She isn’t the first peer I’ve known to have been diagnosed with this dreadful disease, and with the others I sent meals, cards and prayers.

While I was praying for this person, I pretended not to know anything was different about her life.  I put her privacy, which I truly respected, above her person who deserved more than my seeming indifference.

So as she apologized to me, she explained how she didn’t speak to me that day because she was in so much pain from surgery and was putting all her energy into standing upright and smiling for a picture with her child.

I didn’t know she was in terrible pain when we saw one another, nor that she was recovering from surgery or that she had another operation to get through.   I did know she had cancer though, and more importantly now I realized that she knew I did.

Suddenly the whole respecting her privacy notion seemed preposterous when I had wasted time that could have been used to ease her suffering.

gnatI felt more than melancholy when I walked away from our conversation, I felt like a gnat’s dung – miniscule and vile.  Here she was living a nightmare, and I was worried about whether or not I was supposed to know.

I put social graces before the gestures of kindness and compassion. My words failed me, not because I said the wrong thing – but, because I said nothing at all.

I didn’t use words to express my sincere sorrow for her suffering, or my hope that she would be okay.  I didn’t use my words to tell her all the ways I could help — with meals, errands or companionship.

I said nothing, and she was apologizing to me.

I went home and wrote her a letter, and told her with every word I knew to use how sorry I was for the cancer, her pain and my silence.  I told her how embarrassed I was that I had not acknowledged what she was going through.  I told her everything I should have said when I first found out, along with a sincere apology for not saying it sooner.

We are all called to comfort others, no matter the source of their sorrow. It doesn’t matter if you say the right thing, use the wrong word, or even pronounce it incorrectly.  It matters that you say something.

We may perceive ourselves as being inept when it comes to comforting the sorrowful.  After all, there are some losses and tragedies which defy the profoundest of words.  Still, we must remember the times in our lives when a family member, friend, or even a stranger shared some kind words with us, that in their essence were quite ordinary but because they were made with the intention of love, they somehow are transformed from mere words to tiny miracles of comfort and healing.

“I myself am convinced my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, complete in knowledge and competent to instruct one another,” Romans 15:14.

Ultimately, words spoken with love become a soothing melody to the melancholic heart.  Now it’s just up to us to make sure they are said.

Please share your comments, insights and experiences.  It’s hard to know sometimes not only what to say, but if you should say anything at all. 
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Author: Lara Patangan

Mercy me, I’ve got work to do… is a blog I started on my 40th birthday to chronicle my experiences spending the year doing corporal and spiritual works of mercy. No longer on the cusp of a new decade, I am still here finding that much work remains – in the world, my community, my relationship with God and perhaps most challenging, within myself. Please sign up and join me as we share the work that matters most – being better people. In hopes that when the decades cease to pass the world will still whisper of the graces left in our wake.

13 thoughts on “Say Something

  1. Wow. Powerful admission. Rarely does someone confess their foibles and actually do something about it. Well done.

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    • Norm — it was a harder one to hit post on. Still, I met no malice. It’s just hard to know what is private anymore. Ultimately though I realize that I can’t help someone who is at a point that truly needs help if I stay silent. Lesson learned.

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  2. Once again, words fail me on how talented you are to be able to express how we hold ourselves back from supporting and encouraging others with our words. You encouraged me to not hold back with mine this time. Why hold back at all from kind words? What causes us to do this? jealousy? Encouraging people to feel better when they are sick or congratulate them on their achievements should come naturally and not be held back. So here goes. You are so talented that I would pay for this blog.

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    • Lynn — thank you for your generous words. We do hold back and I guess the reasons are many: too busy, too uncomfortable, scared we will say it wrong … You are right though that encouraging others when they are at a low point or even when they did something really great is so important. These words mean so much and often are the best medicine for getting us through our trials. People shouldn’t be stingy with kindness. Sharing it only makes more.

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  3. OK -I am leaving an experience from the other side of your story. This happened almost 20 years ago – but the gesture was so profound that I ALWAYS remember it. When my father passed away almost 20 years ago, I was in college. I was sad, I was weirded out – the whole thing was strange to have someone so much a part of my life not there anymore. On the day that he passed away there was a phone call from you (yes you – Lara!) and another friend telling the person on the other end you were coming from Gainesville and would be at my house by evening. I just thought – ugh – I don’t want to talk, I am tired, I am too sad to be near even more people, even if they are good friends. But when ya’ll got there I had the completely opposite feeling. It was great comfort having you there and I recognized that in my sadness I did not know what i wanted or for that matter what I needed. I don’t know if you said anything – but having you both “there” meant soo much – I did not know it would. Everything seems more dramatic in college and sort of in slow motion – but that was a slow motion moment that i have always remembered – teaching me it is better to “say something” :o)
    This was so long – it could be its own blog!!! Sorry everyone!

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    • Helena — you made me cry! Thank you for sharing such a personal story. Death is certainly one of those times when we don’t know what to say or do but thank you for the reminder of how important it is to comfort others. It means a lot to me that you remember that – that what I did 20 years ago still matters, when so much from that time doesn’t anymore. Moments that matter then; make moments that matter now.

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  4. What a beautiful blog. We don’t know each other but in passing but I soo admire you and your writing. This article came at a perfect time, when I really needed to be reminded to not be afraid to say a word of comfort or of encouragement or praise. Thank you

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    • Mary — I am so glad you are reading and appreciate your kind words. I am so happy that it encourages you to say a word of comfort or praise. I think most of us have them on the tips of our tongue and for some reason they just stick there! Even tonight, I thought of someone who had something kind to me when I badly needed some kindness. She didn’t even know that I did, but it made it all the more beautiful and meaningful that it was unsolicited. So I sent her a message tonight and told her what it meant to me. It’s 2 weeks later but you know, its never to late 🙂

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  5. How beautiful! Thank you for the encouragement to be vulnerable and humble before another…to reach out in love. Deeply inspirational!

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    • Thank you April — I was embarrassed, and to share that in a public forum is not easy. Still, I think most people get it. It’s not easy to know what to say or if you are even supposed to know something about someone. Ultimately though, I think we all hold back too often with our kind words.

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  6. Wow Lara…. this really spoke to me….. how often we speak about holding our tongues to being critical, hurtful, etc. Never thought about the opposite… how often we hold our tongues to bring kindness and comfort and affirmation to others… thank you!

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    • Cathy, It is strange that we aren’t more generous with our words. I don’t think there is malice intended but certainly not the awareness that your kindness is not only appreciated, but sometimes very badly needed.

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  7. That was wonderful. I will think about that in my day to day life.

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