January 14, 2011 § 5 Comments
I must look like someone who wants to hear everyone’s deepest feelings and issues. Virtual strangers open up to me on a fairly regular basis about things that I don’t feel qualified (or any desire) to know.
There is a woman who works on the same floor as I do, for a different company. We see each other in the halls and the bathrooms, we have exchanged names and greetings and even once walked down the block together making small talk when we left the office at the same time. She seems like a very nice woman & I would pause to say hello if I saw her on the street, but we are not friends.
Last year she began treatment for breast cancer. I discovered this very recently, as she decided to confide in me about her treatment, prognosis, her experience having a partial mastectomy the same week that she buried her father. She’s had a hell of a year, to say the least. When she sees me in the hall she comes over to whisper all the newest developments to me, developments that I really have no business knowing. It must give her comfort to talk with me about it, but it is incredibly hard for me to assume that role; not knowing her on any level beyond the completely superficial, I don’t feel like I can offer much. I listen and I try to hide my discomfort in the listener role, but aside from that my hands feel tied. On an admittedly selfish level, it’s a heavy burden to carry on behalf of (basically) a total stranger.
I saw her this morning as I walked out of my office. Her back was turned, and before I knew what I was doing I had started running behind a wall to wait for her to go into her office so I didn’t get cornered. Before I made it all the way I caught myself and started walking the way I was headed, ashamed of myself for having had that reaction. Really, though, I have no idea how to handle the situation. What would you do?