So…there are times that I am…umm…unobservant. My husband could tell several stories that go something like this:
I get home from somewhere.
Husband: What do you think?!
Me: What do I think about what?
Husband: The yard?
Me: (Straining to look out the window to figure out what on earth he’s talking about) You mowed it?
Husband: Seriously? No.
Husband: The bushes?
Me: What bushes?
Husband: The bushes that used to line the entire front of the house?
Husband: They are gone.
Me: Oh….OH…it looks GREAT (no idea what he’s talking about).
Husband: I took out all of the bushes.
Me: Yes…yes…it looks great!!!
Husband: You have no idea what I’m talking about.
Me: (Silence…still trying to peek out the window)
Husband: You have no idea what I’m talking about???
I just do not notice things. Well, that’s not entirely true, my husband would also tell of my constant awareness of things like dirty dishes, dirty clothes, dirty countertops, etc…that I can sense as I walk into the house. I barely need to look around to know when something is awry in the house.
Beyond what I think about regularly, however, I just don’t notice. I’m not sure if that makes me an idiot, too self-involved, or if it’s very very smart of me to only worry about the things that I have to. You know, in order to keep myself sane and all.
There’s a slight problem with this…it sometimes happens to be this way with people too.
With my disdain for office politics, I tend to ignore people at work. Not in a snotty “I’m not talking to you” way, but more of an “I’m here to do my job and not interested in much else” kind of way.
When I was younger, work was much more entwined with my social life. Now, my office is a good 45+ minutes from my home, my husband, my little girls, and my dog. I have less desire to stick around the office unless absolutely necessary.
Also, in the really really tough years for us, I just had to let a lot of the outside “noise” go in an effort to maintain my sanity. I could only hold onto so much mentally and everything else fell by the wayside. It left me a little less observant and a little less willing to invest time/effort into my colleagues or people not within my already established circle. I got to a point where, honestly, unless it involved me and/or my family, I just didn’t care.
Even though things are so much better, at times I still find myself behaving in this manner, especially when I’m busy and stressed.
A few months ago I was in a department meeting. We were going around the table explaining what we were currently working on. When one of my colleagues was up, she began talking about what she was working on, then suddenly burst into tears. She explained that something horrible had happened in the country in which she was born and raised and that nobody had asked her about her family or friends. She felt that, since she had been an employee of this organization for quite some time, SOMEONE should have asked her SOMETHING.
My fellow colleagues quickly went on the defensive.
“NO! Don’t you remember?! I asked you about it last week? REMEMBER???”
“Oh, I think you’re misunderstanding lack of inquiry for lack of caring! It’s pretty common in our culture NOT to ask but to wait for YOU to bring it up.”
“I assumed you’d tell us if something had happened!!!”
I just sat there, feeling like a horrible person, and thinking ‘Jesus people! Shut-up! You’re making yourselves sound ridiculous.’ And I did the only thing I knew how to do in such an awkward situation. I rubbed her back.
Now would be a good time to point out that I am NOT a warm and fuzzy person. I don’t hug people (aside from my husband and little girls…all the time), I’m not overly emotional, I certainly don’t get emotional at work (as far as I’m concerned there is NO crying in baseball!), and I am not touchy feely. When my girlfriends come in for a hug (THEY are huggers) I acquiesce, but I never initiate the hugging. SO rubbing my colleague’s back was enormously out of character for me but the only thing that felt appropriate under the circumstances.
Here’s the thing. I think we need to pay more attention. No. I mean we need to PAY! ATTENTION!!! I’ve had friends suffer from postpartum depression, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, loss, marital problems, unemployment, and more. The truth is…people are struggling everywhere…all the time. But are we REALLY paying attention to those around us who are struggling?
A close friend of mine had an incredibly difficult 2011. She struggled with depression and it took a very long time for her to see the light at the end of the tunnel. She stopped coming to wine night and would often bail on group activities so I tried to do dinner or lunch with her every week or two to just check-in. Sometimes I would spend that time listening to her, sometimes I would spend the entire meal talking about the little girls, my husband, and I, and sometimes I would dish out a very large serving of TOUGH LOVE. On those occasions I was sure she would never want to see me again. A for one, I was repeating the same things over and over (knowing internally that it is always easier said than done), and b for two, I sometimes didn’t feel very nice. Not that I wasn’t being a good friend but maybe just not very nice.
Recently she told me how very very thankful she was that I had just BEEN THERE. And this is the point. Sometimes we just need to be THERE. We don’t need to offer solutions (although I am ALWAYS quick to come up with tons of solutions…sometimes I need to just shut my mouth) but we do need to offer ourselves.
There are so so many opportunities these days for people to “cry out for help,” and wonder if anyone is paying attention (is this thing on???), without having to look anyone in the eye. In our busy lives it’s easy to see an email or Facebook post from a friend, in which they talk about things not going so great, and to toss it aside thinking ‘you and me both sister!’ But…BUT…sometimes it’s really important to stop for a second. Re-read the message they are tossing out. And try to determine if something more than that kind of response is necessary.
I’m not suggesting we all rush out and become amateur social workers…I AM suggesting we all rush out and start acting HUMAN to one another…and offer to BE THERE for the people who are important to us. We shouldn’t be forcing them to put out an all points bulletin when they need a shoulder to cry on or an ear for listening. We should be paying attention to what they are (or are not) telling us.
TODAY: What if instead of brushing aside messages of unhappiness and assuming ‘oh I’m sure they’re FINE’ I actually look into matters to be sure? What if I take the time to really PAY ATTENTION and BE THERE for the people I care about? What if doing this assures that if things go wrong or get dark again in my life that I too will have a group of caring friends who will PAY ATTENTION and BE THERE for me when I call out for help?