Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Perils of False Intimacy


He who guards his mouth and his tongue, Guards his soul from troubles. Proverbs 21:23

I should listen to King Solomon, the wisest of men, more often. I inadvertently rubbed salt into a stranger's wounds today.

It's a funny thing about women's locker rooms. I don't know how men's are - I suspect people don't talk to strangers there. But most good gyms try to make the women's changing rooms, at least, homey and cheerful. Soft lighting (except by the mirrors, where the lighting tends to be brutally honest), nondescript carpeting, innocuous music. There we are, in various stages of undress, carrying out all kinds of rituals we normally perform at home in the privacy of our bathrooms. Some of us actually know each other - maybe our kids go to the same school, or we take some exercise classes together. The water aerobics groups are quite notorious for their raucous chatter, both in the locker room and later in the restaurant.

Those of us who don't know each other, have a choice. We can ignore each other, or we can act on the false intimacy of hanging out in the same space in our underwear. If I am in a good mood, I tend to do the latter. It is usually quite harmless. We talk about our children or our health as if we were old friends. If we see each other often enough, sometimes it becomes real. There are some older ladies who keep tabs on me and scold me if I don't come often enough. I've given the odd word of advice to a young mother who can't see beyond the rigours of life with a toddler. It's generally fun.

This morning, I was there with a woman in her late forties whom I had seen a few times before, but I don't know her name and I didn't know anything about her. I had occasion to phone my teenaged son and had a conversation with him that amused me. When I hung up, I chuckled and said to this woman (just because she was there), "Isn't it amazing how funny kids are? It's a good thing, too, or we would probably kill them."

She nodded silently, clearly not amused by my sentiment. Rebuffed, I turned back to my locker. She seemed to be having difficulty getting her things together. As she left, she encountered the locker room attendant, who asked her solicitously how she was. She said, "Every day is a sad day, for now. But I'm getting better."

Once she was gone, I could not resist asking what was wrong with her - she was clearly distraught. The attendant told me that her 25 y/o daughter was killed in a car accident last week.

Oh. My. Effing. G-d.

I couldn't even apologise - she was gone. I hope I get to see her again, although I'm not sure what to say. "Sorry I was an insensitive idiot who had no idea ..."?

Have you ever caused pain by thoughtless, ignorant speech? What, if anything, did you do to make amends?


  1. Oh, Hadass ((((hugs)))). It was an unfortunately timed comment, but harmless enough in intent. And I'm sure SHE realized that, since she didn't bite back. She's probably felt that way herself plenty of times, as recently as weeks ago.

    Should a future opportunity present itself, I would probably apologize for saying anything that caused her pain, however inadvertently. Without knowing her better, I don't know what else you CAN say without the risk of making it worse.

  2. Hey Sweetie,
    You didnt't make her feel worse than she already does. Her pain is at such as asymptote that your comments wasn't even a blip. There are no amends that can be made (you can't return her daughter), and an apology would make YOU feel better, it won't do anything for her. It's just one of those things - leave it.


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