For the last two months I have had my foot in a cast. This post-surgical immobilization is needed for the healing of a torn tendon in my ankle. Every time I am out in public these days friends, acquaintances, and even strangers stop to ask me, “What happened?” or “How are you?” And I politely tell them and thank them for their concern.

Recently, I was in a situation that truly impressed on my heart just how important it is to stop and intentionally ask the people in my social milieu and workplace the simple question, “How are you?”

At a recent church function, a woman who is a longtime acquaintance came up to me and expressed her loving concern for my predicament as I hobbled along.  For the fifth time that night, I had to explain myself, and I was getting a little tired of my on-going narrative.  I gave her the 60-second version of my story.  Knowing she was a nurse, I mentioned how wonderful it is to have great people like her in healthcare to suffer with the likes of me! As I thanked her for loving concern, I wondered aloud with her, how many people in this room with us have hurts and burdens that we cannot see… and if anyone rushed up to them to ask how they are doing?

At that moment, my friend’s eyes grew wide. She dabbed at a tear as she pushed back her glasses. So I asked the obvious: how are you? And then I listened. We talked together for the rest of the night about a very painful family situation. I offered my own concern and support.

Look, I’m no saint, and I can’t say for sure, but I wonder if I did not give this person an opening to share, would she have had anyone else there that night that might have listened? Again, I don’t know. It was a buzzing church fellowship setting with lots of normal chitchat.

Still, I wonder if my cast provided a natural opening for her to come and talk with me? Again, I don’t know. But I do know that now this woman’s situation is the focus of my prayers and my ongoing concern.

Pausing to reflect, it occurs to me just how often I am as dense as an iceberg; I fail to stop and ask this very simple question…  how are you? I need to do that more, and, more importantly, I must pause to wait for the response.

I’ve found this sage advice to be helpful:

Human being are very much like icebergs -- we only see a small portion of them, and nothing of the hidden currents which drag them this way and that.

I fancy we would not sit and judge our neighbor so frequently as we do, did we but ponder well over the small amount of data we possess.  We perceive only the external act, but nothing of the motive activating it.

--- Fr. David McAstocker, SJ

Finally, over the years, I have found that there is one more leading question that never fails to get a response:  Is there anything you would like me to pray for? (Try it yourself and see what happens. And then, of course, we must follow through on what we hear.)

At the moment, I have a visible disability and a situation that people notice right away. That won’t always be the case.

Still, I’m praying for the grace to be more sensitive toward others, and less in a rush. I hope to remember that sometimes the worst hurts and pains are the ones we cannot see.

Copyright 2011 Pat Gohn