One of the earliest pieces of classic literature from Middle English is the sprawling and epic Canterbury Tales, written by Geoffrey Chaucer. Drawing upon a genre of literature that was common at the time where people of varied and disparate backgrounds were drawn together through their traveling towards a common destination, the book consists of a variety of stories told by various people about themselves and about where they come from. Even today, these tales are celebrated and studied for what they tell us about the lives of Europeans of diverse backgrounds, as the fiction carries with it the air of verisimilitude. As someone with a high degree of compulsion present in my writing , I would like to discuss a complicated tale with you today. If you wish to imagine yourself sitting next to me on a table in a medieval English inn relaxing after dinner while I tell my tale, you are free to imagine yourself in that sort of situation if it makes the tale more enjoyable to listen to.
On Sabbath morning, I was interrupted from my brunch, eaten while I was still in my bedclothes, by a pair of would-be Jehovah’s Witnesses who were looking for one of the sons of the hosts at whose house my mother and I are guests this month. Given the general remoteness of the country, I thought it particularly humorous to find myself so accosted by people, and I graciously informed them that I was not interested in their literature after being unable to rouse the person they were looking for. Although more than most people I have a compulsive need to communicate and a deep horror at prolonged and awkward silence, I generally do not like to force communication on the unwilling. My own sensitivities towards the issue of coercion because of my own painful personal experience serve as a damper on my own fierce impulse towards communication, and moderates such tendencies as I would have to run over people through following my own longings without respect to the feelings of others. To what extent this moderation and restraint is credited by others is uncertain, but it exists in my own mind and, I trust, will be given its proper reward at some point.
I found the Sabbath in general to be an even more than usually stressful one for myself personally. As I was getting ready for services I received a message from someone saying that due to sickness they would be unable to attend services and sing in a quartet introducing a new old song to the congregation , with almost no notice. This was after I had received a call from our hostess that diverted my path to services into a less efficient route, and before that route had slowdowns due to an accident and road construction that turned what should have been a trip of 45 minutes into one of an hour and a half. Nor did matters get less stressful from there, with the hurried working out of logistics for the performance , dealing with the scarcity of gentlemen who were willing to give opening and closing prayers, taking notes on the fifth straight message on marriage, a rather trying subject, that our congregation has had, and dealing with a situation where someone appeared to find my own admission of my persistence in communicating across a void of silence as a subject of horror and alarm, quite contrary to my own desires and expectations.
Nor was I the only person close to me who spent much of this weekend dealing with awkward conversations and their attendant frustrations. My mother, bless her heart, is the sort of person who plans and executes awkward conversations with rare frequency. Sometimes this happens with warning and sometimes without. On the way back from services, for example, we spoke at length about personal matters in a properly disguised way, where I hoped to prevent her from springing an awkward conversation with someone else who would likely respond less graciously to it than I did. Then, while I was sacked out and asleep, the loud playing of computer games by a couple of people led my mother, after her request for the players to keep quiet went nowhere, to wake up a couple of sleepers to make sure the request was heeded. This caused some degree of resentment, as might be imagined, among those so interrupted from their noisy nocturnal gaming because others needed to sleep. A third awkward conversation sprang from my mother’s attempt to delicately discuss a matter of concern from what she had observed, and as might be well imagined from anyone who knows my own particular skill at delicate conversations, it was not delicate enough for everyone’s tastes. And so the weekend went.
To what extent are we responsible for how our words and actions affect others? If we know or observe that what we have said or done has had a negative affect on the countenance of someone else, what is our responsibility to show consideration for the feelings of others even when we may view them to be an inappropriate response to us? To what extent are we obligated to show concern for the well-being of others and so to restrain ourselves from what we would want to do or to encourage ourselves to communicate matters that are awkward and uncomfortable for us to discuss and for others to listen to? To what extent do we have an obligation to, when dealing with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ or members of our physical families, to give the benefit of the doubt in interpreting the behavior of others and in avoiding taking offense even as we seek to avoid giving offense? Tell me, if you know.
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