The Courtesy of a Response

There is an invitation, letter, card, phone call, illness, death and it requires a response. In other words, it requires some connection. What holds people back from responding? Is it fear, uncertainty, forgetfulness or, selfishness? I often wonder about this as I watch life unfold.

Basically, being a true grown up requires a response to others.

5 thoughts on “The Courtesy of a Response

  1. It has been my experience that small children and high school students can offer true kindness to others – as I often saw in the classroom over my 33 years. I saw a lot of kindness toward classmates from a nice junior boy named Jamie Moyer (pitcher). I taught him everything he knows about 11th grade US History!
    Recently I was in an elementary school before Thanksgiving presenting a lesson on Molly’s Pilgrim (look it up if you are not familiar with this small book). The 5th graders were so thoughtful about Molly being bullied and responded with kindness. As I drove home, I thought of all the folks who have been kind to me and I felt blessed. I’m not sure what causes the lack of response from child or adult – perhaps the person is so focused on their own needs, there is just no room to see the pain of another person. I have often joked that Ed received the entire supply of empathy in his family and perhaps he is adopted…(not true). This was reinforced when my mother died and other than a small bouquet of flowers, my in-laws did not say or do anything personal to me about her death. Ed even asked his parents to offer condolences to me and they refused. I guess if you have to ask someone for kindness after a death, the result is foregone. If all your energy is spent supporting your own emotional needs, then a request for emotional support from another person may feel threatening or depleting.
    I’m working on a meditation exercise from Desmond Tutu about letting go of past hurts – for the benefit of yourself. I’m not calling it forgiveness – that feels too much like it’s all OK. I prefer transcending and moving over and past it. This was in a recent meditation magazine with Tutu on the cover. I’m starting with small hurts and will work up to my in-laws!
    One last comment – I was at the dry cleaners about 3 years ago – it’s a place where I taught one of the children and the parents are so nice. Grace, the mother, leaned over the counter that day and began to cry as she asked me to pray for her husband who had just learned he had pancreatic cancer. We stood with our hands clasped across the counter and cried and said silent prayers for several minutes. As I left the cleaners that day, I felt a wave of gratitude that I was able to immediately offer caring to Grace and felt sorry for those who cannot open themselves to the pain of others. The next week, I took Grace a small present and I inquired each week about her husband. He died within the year. She has coped with the support of her family and friends.
    Difficult events can cause one to ‘fall off the planet’ for a period of time. Helping hands are needed to pull the person back on the planet. I’m now focusing my energy on those hands who reached out to help me as I tried to get my footing back on the planet….
    Denni, thanks for your thought provoking comment.


    • Thanks so much. I grew up in the southern culture of weddings and funerals where the entire community comes to help the grieving family – the same culture you experienced. With both parents’ deaths, I experienced a rainforest of emotional support from my family and friends in the south. It seemed folks made our family their top priority for that period of grieving. What a gift of the heart that community support is for a person. Friends and family were searching in October for fresh gardenias to place in our mother’s hands because my sister and I thought that would be a nice touch. We took some of her gloves and had the 5 grandchildren – all girls- write a comment and then we folded the notes like scrolls and placed them in the fingertips of her gloves. She was a real southern lady and we tried to show that part of her. Our cousins provided the casket flowers of magnolia leaves, red roses and peacock feathers (she raised peacocks – well, daddy really did…). My sister and I provided a lovely funeral for a mother who was really quite horrible to us, but not to our brother. We did it to show who we were as caring people, despite her treatment of us. Beth and I gave her the funeral she would have wanted. Friends and colleagues here in the north were very kind and caring and listened to me about this whole process with my mother, which was very supportive. My in-laws were almost allergic to any comment such as what I have written above. Long silences followed a comment by me and then the air crystallized into an atmosphere of a huge faux pas caused by me. Chatty me became a very silent person around them as they clearly expressed they would not engage in this conversation. Can you imagine me silent????? Very strange, yes! This is the first time I have put this to words and it does help me to see how outside the mainstream my 4 in-laws were/are. And how sad for them to try to what Emily Dickinson says we cannot do – “You cannot fold a flood and place it in a drawer”.
      I guess it is really good that I did not try to talk to them about being molested as a child. Horrors!!!
      I am sad for them and perhaps that will help my meditation on transcending the pain of their silence and disapproval.


      • Oh, Deni! The fun we could have. And perhaps some mischief…
        I have lots of feelings across the spectrum about Southern culture. It is the best and the worst at the same time. So human and also so inhuman (I interviewed my father about his father in the Klan…) But, Southern culture made me immediately move toward a person who needed support and to hold their hand or touch an arm to shore them up when the underpinnings had been totally knocked away. I always answer the call to help someone – just like my aunts, the strong Bonner women.
        Thanks for the comment. We need to find a time to get together in Duck!


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