Shifting perspective

A few years ago I made a series of pastoral visits to a woman whose husband had died several months prior. Her grief repeatedly manifested as anger at her petite stature. Her husband had been a tall man and had always helped her reach the dishes and spices in her highest kitchen cabinets.

Playing in the ball pit at an indoor playground.
Playing in the ball pit at an indoor playground.

Recognizing these complaints for the expressions of anguish they were, I tried to empathize. I knew she was describing one way her relationship with her husband was symbiotic, and I did not want to discount her pain. But part of me was befuddled. This woman was an inch or two taller than me, yet rarely had I considered my height a handicap. (Perceptions of my age are another story.) When I need something that’s way above my eye line, I climb the shelves Spiderman-style, grab the item, and go on my way. In fact, I’ve found a number of outright advantages to being 4’10.” Most importantly to me right now, I can sit comfortably in children’s furniture, squeeze into playhouses, and ride playground equipment without worrying about size limits. Before my son was sure of foot, he got to do many more fun things (like go in bounce houses) because I could do them with him.

My visits with this parishioner prompted me to reflect on this flip side of my “short”coming. I wish I had more effectively returned the favor, asking her to tell me stories about how the height differential contributed to her happy marriage and getting her to think practically and proactively about the adjustments she would now need to make.

Shortcomings can be opportunities, if we embrace them as such. What muscles have we had to flex because of our quirks or circumstances? What specialized knowledge have we gained? To whom are we more connected? To what are we more sensitive? How are we more resolved?

It’s important to know our limits and own our pain. How can we then take hardship and use it not just for our own good, but also for others’?

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