Please respect the need for privacy

Every year, I eagerly await the Gathering. It is the one week of the year that is completely mine. I immerse myself in my workshop, music, worship, afternoon naps, and pleasure reading. It is my time for nurture and renewal.

For a number of years now, I have found myself struggling to feel as much nurture and renewal as I need. It has nothing to do with the structure of the week, the FGC and university staff, or the Gathering Committee, of which I have been a part several times. My struggles are created by thoughtless, rude, or intrusive comments made to me by people I do not know.

Friends, those of us who have "dis-abilities" are much more than our crutches, our wheelchairs, our cervical collars, our oxygen tanks, or any other outward manifestation. Please do not make assumptions.

Think before you speak. Even well-meaning questions can feel intrusive, so listen carefully to the responses, and don’t push. What may seem like harmless chitchat to you could be very hurtful to the recipient.

Here is an example. What if someone you never met came up to you and without any introductions or pleasantries started to talk in a manner such as this: "Oh my God, what happened to you? You have on a blue shirt. Why in the world would you wear a blue shirt? What, you don’t want to talk about it? What’s your problem?"

Of course, this conversation seems absurd. You are turned into an object and merely seen as a blue shirt rather than a feeling, thinking human being. The person is not interacting with a shirt; they are interacting with you. A conversation like this feels rude and insensitive.

Think about it. Why would someone who uses a medical device want to be treated any differently than you do? They do not. They too wish to be approached respectfully. They do not want to be seen as a blue shirt any more than you do, but often they are.

It can take a lot of physical, emotional, and spiritual energy to live with a chronic health problem. Frequently, what the world sees is not indicative of what is really going on. In my case, my cervical collar does not mean whiplash. It is the outward sign of a serious illness that has drastically changed my life. Not only did I have to change careers, but I also deal with the balance between pain and heavy-duty medication. I have had periods when it has been difficult to walk. In time, I may be crippled by my condition. I do not share this to gain pity; I am merely trying to illustrate how my outward appearance does not represent what I actually experience. When I am pushed to share by people who feel more voyeuristic than sympathetic, it brings up a lot of emotions—emotions that are difficult and personal.

Friends, please respect people’s need for privacy. Do not assume they are eager or willing to talk about things that might be very personal or painful. People who are already hurting do not need to be further hurt in an environment in which they expect to receive nurture. It is not always taboo to ask about medical problems. However, if you wish to do so, it needs to be done gently after trust and rapport have been established. And, if a person is not in a place to talk, that needs to be respected.

Linda Goldstein
Charlottesville, Va.