Comforting the Comforter

Meals on Wheels. Last delivery of the route. Molly. A lonely old widow. I wait patiently as she tells me for the umpteenth time how she built the porch railing herself. Finally released, I go back to my truck, where, distracted by my thoughts, I grip the door by the top and slam it on my fingers! I yelp and offer up a not very original epithet at full voice. I know I have ice in the cooler. If I can get my hand into it quickly, I’ll avoid a lot of the pain and injury. Yipping all the way, I race to the back of the truck.

"Are you okay?" Molly calls from the porch.


"Do you need any help?"

"No," I answer, thinking that ended the transaction.

I find the ice and thrust my hand into it. Good, I’ve gotten there in plenty of time to avoid the consequences of my stupidity. Suddenly, Molly is behind me, giving me possibly the worst neck rub ever while saying directly into my ear, "Jesus loves you."

I’m appalled. I don’t like much being touched by strangers, and I don’t see what Jesus has got to do with it. As a Friend, I know I’m "supposed" to hold everyone in the Light, even those who are intruding on my space; but, honestly! I’m about to order Molly away, when I remember something my Therapy professor told me: "When you comfort someone, be very clear about who needs the comforting."

It turns out that most of us are made uncomfortable when we are in the presence of suffering. The comforting we offer is designed to mute the signals of distress. Odd thought that: A lot of comforting is about comforting the comforter.

Take babies, for instance. Those innocent little bundles of naked emotion are, in fact, excellent extortionists. They hold a genetic memory of how to get instant attention. Their crying is probably the most irritating sound on Earth. That’s why sirens sound like babies, on purpose. The baby puts out such a howl that it’s bound to attract the attention of any passing leopards and therefore creates within the human listeners instant anxiety and the desire to do almost anything to shut off the noise. I experience this, myself, whenever one of the little darlings explodes in the supermarket, even several aisles away.

A long time ago, I was doing childcare at yearly meeting when a 12-year-old boy got hurt mid-game. I quickly determined that the injury was only a "stinger." I asked him if he was all right. Through clenched teeth he said he was; and I moved on with the game. Instantly, half a dozen mother/spectators surged to his assistance. Using the same epithet I would use years later, he crudely told the women to go away. The last thing a 12-year-old boy wants when injured is to have his mother tend to him within sight of other children—let alone half a dozen mothers!

They backed up, but continued to circle him from a safe distance, worry etched on every face. Deprived of their opportunity to relieve their own distress, they had to mill about nearby in the hopes he would relent. He didn’t.

So I understood what Molly needed; and reluctantly I knew what I had to do. Giving is supposed to be more blessed than receiving. But receiving can be blessed too, particularly when it facilitates someone else’s opportunity to minister. I reached down to the Friend deep within and gave to Molly what Light I could.

I steadied my voice, removed from it any hint of pain; and said, "Thank you."

George Gjelfriend

George Gjelfriend, a member of Asheville (N.C.) Meeting, teaches First-day school for teenagers, teaches chess, and has published a book for children, High Island Treasure.