Today I was a model for a class of 3rd and 4th grade sculptors.
They measured me, drew me and crafted a wire skeleton of me.
And as I looked at the different stick versions of me on the paper, I was reminded of the power of perspective.
None of us wants to be a social klutz.
Most of us pick up our social skills in the playground. Then we refine and polish them in early adulthood.
But it gets trickier when we grow up. We start to face awkward situations, tragic circumstances.
Either our own or those of other people.
Over the years, I’ve read much about what to say to people who’ve experienced a difficult situation – a job loss, divorce, a death.
I’ve also read comments from those who are in the center of the gray, stormy circle.
Their anger is palpable as they deal with their loss as well as the hurt they feel at another person’s perceived insensitive words.
I would read these views and find them harsh.
Frankly, it scares me to walk up to someone who’s hurting so badly. But I try. Even if I’m stammering and shaking. I don’t walk away.
And I certainly don’t want to be criticized for getting it wrong.
But who was I to judge?
I had never experienced a major loss. No job loss, no divorce, no deaths.
And then, the inevitable happened.
At the age of 41, following two rounds of fertility treatment, I became pregnant. I had achieved my goal of adding to my family.
Or so I thought.
But then I had an amniocentesis and three days later became the poster woman for the argument that the procedure is dangerous.
When a baby is born that early, it is the still the real deal.
A tiny, perfectly formed, one pound little boy, the dead spit of my son Oliver, was born after eighteen hours of labor. Toes, fingers, ears, nipples. Milk came in. I was devastated.
It had been my last chance.
No follow-up baby to soften the loss of miscarriage for me.
I have a great bunch of friends and the vast majority recognized the extent of the loss and behaved entirely appropriately for which I remain hugely grateful.
But of course, there was the odd one or three who did not.
‘Probably for the best,’ ‘You’ll get over it.’ And my favorite, ‘It was God’s will.’
Now I could test my theory.
Was it possible to recognize the intention of words over content?
The first glib response received an angry retort. Visceral, completely reactive. The second time, I slowed. By the third, I had chilled.
I was able to separate my feelings of loss from my reaction to those words by understanding that the intent was to comfort even if the efforts were clumsy.
And knowing how hard it is to even respond to someone who is so sad, I had to acknowledge every person for at least trying.
I know it’s hard when you’re hurting to take a step back.
But it is inevitable these skills are not going to be well-developed in many people.
Someone who is moving to interact is attempting to bridge the gap, even if their attempts to do so are awkward and inept. They are, for the most part, groping to find a way to help even if they haven’t the skills to do so with grace.
And those people are often precious in the long run.
I would rather have an awkward, well-intentioned person on my side than a slick, disingenuous one. I would rather have someone who tried to say or do the right thing even if their voice was shaking and their heart pounding. And if I am ever offended by somebody’s words or actions, I try to understand the intent.