You, Lord, are my portion, my cup;
you control my destiny.
The boundary lines have fallen beautifully for me;
yes, I have a lovely inheritance.
I will bless the Lord who advises me;
even at night I am instructed
in the depths of my mind.
I always put the Lord in front of me;
I will not stumble because he is on my right side.
You teach me the way of life. -Psalm 16:5-8, 11
I’ve always struggled about speaking or not speaking to strangers. When you are in the elevator with people you don’t know, do you say hello? Usually, I do, yes. How about when you’re at the schoolyard, waiting for your child to come out when the bell rings? Possibly, most of the time if they look approachable, yes. What about when you’re sitting in the waiting room of the cancer care center? Well . . .it depends. But I’m not sure on what.
Of course the childhood admonition is “don’t talk to strangers.” My own children have to remind me of that. As in, “Please Mom, don’t talk to her! She’s a straaaangeeer!” That would be nice to have it so crystal clear. Just don’t do it. The boundaries are set.
But what if the young couple sitting across from you obviously filling out first-time paperwork at the cancer center look so worried that your heart is bursting for them? What if the man who takes treatment right before you is looking so pale and wan as an attendant whisks him off to the radiation machine, while his sister waits patiently right beside you? Do you say something? And if so, what do you say? And does it matter?
So here’s what I attempt. Tell me what you do in similar situations. I pray first. Something like, “God, please send your love and light to this beloved person right here. You know them. I don’t. Help.” Then sometimes the feeling to reach out fades. Other times it gets stronger, like if I don’t say something I might just implode a tiny bit. So then I pray, “O Lord, keep me from doing harm.”
Because that’s it, isn’t it? If we don’t speak, we haven’t done any harm. But what if sometimes silence is harm? Like the neighbor I have that I have yet to get the courage to say more than hello to? What if he needs a friend? What if he makes great strawberry rhubarb pie that he would bring me in the summers if I ever had actual conversations with him but since I don’t he never will? That is harm right there! What if a person is feeling alone in the world, because we are all sitting there silently praying for said person but said person never knows that?
A saying I long have loved is attributed to St. Francis: “Speak the gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” Silence is golden. Yet sometimes words are necessary.
So sometimes I open my mouth. I”m not going to tell them any platitudes or all about the vast knowledge I now have from living my own personal story. I remember people who have said things to help me have been people who said very little more than, “I care.” So I try, “I’m Dawn. How’s it going?” Then I listen.
Other times, I say nothing. And then wonder all day what would have happened if I did.