After thirteen years of marriage, my daughter and son-in-law are expecting their first (and possibly only) child. And for thirteen years, they have endured all the questions.
“So . . . when ya’ll gonna have a little one?”
“Thinkin’ ‘bout startin’ a family anytime soon?”
“You’re not gettin’ any younger, you know . . .”
Kindly read all of the above in your best Southern little old lady voice, although the questions were by no means limited to Southern little old ladies. For my children (yes, I consider my son-in-law one of my own), they were nothing more than aggravating, because they had chosen to wait, not been forced to. But what these “kind-hearted” and well-intentioned people didn’t consider is that might not have been the case at all. They might have been trying for years. They might have already lost several pregnancies. If either of those circumstances were the issue, then every question regarding their childless status would have been equal to a knife through their hearts. And being the people they are they probably would not have told these inquiring minds the actual state of affairs.
All of the above reminds me of another instance I heard about several years ago involving a young mother and her two small children and a trip to Cracker Barrel. The kids were being kids but not wildly so. There was no running around the restaurant or bouncing off the walls, just two siblings behaving like children do when they’ve been cooped up in a car for an hour or so. While they were waiting on their food, a woman came over and read this mother the riot act, complaining about how the children had disrupted what she hoped would be a nice, quiet meal (and who, pray tell, goes to Cracker Barrel for a quiet meal?) and how she should really be more considerate of those around her. And with those hurtful words, she turned and left.
As the husband/father related the events to me, he added that he wished he’d been the one in the restaurant. He would have looked up at that woman with the most mournful look he could muster and apologized for his children’s behavior, telling her they had just left the hospital where his wife had died and he couldn’t bring himself to go home. The house would be so filled with her but so empty and he was still trying to figure out how to tell his kids their mama would not be coming home. And then, while the woman was standing there, ashamed of her actions and trying to stammer out an apology, he would look at her and say, “That’s all right, because you see, nothing I just told you is true. But you didn’t know that when you walked over here.”
I loved that response—even though it only took place in his head—mainly because this woman never considered what circumstances might have brought that family to that Cracker Barrel on that particular day—what adverse conditions might have caused the innocent behavior to which she objected—and somebody needed to remind her of that.
Often we do not walk gently into the lives of others because it never occurs to us that their lives are anything but normal, when the truth of the matter is, we can rarely ever tell just by looking at someone how much they may be hurting. Whether from grief brought by Death or loss in some other form . . . whether their pain is physical, mental, or emotional . . . our words hold an enormous amount of power over others who may be struggling.
Please, always try to use that power for good.