My first day back at hospice. Coworkers greet me with hugs and smiles, ask about my trip to Europe. It’s good to be home. A woman sits alone in the lounge, looking lost. I take the seat next to her, introduce myself. Knowing only that she’s come to visit a patient, I ask: What brings you here?
My mother, she replies.
Is she dying?
(Silence. Then tears.)
Yes. It’s all so sudden. She was here in August and I knew it would come to this. Still …
You’re going to lose your mom. (Pause.) Have you told her?
Told her what?
How much she matters to you.
(Silence. More tears. Tissue paper in shreds.)
Who are you? I don’t even know you. (Smiles through tears.)
Does it matter? Grief brings us together, this moment. (Tears in my eyes as well. More silence.)
(Palms together.) Thank you.
We frequently view both objects and people by their functions, writes philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965). Sometimes this is good: scientists, for instance, can learn a great deal about our world by observing, measuring, and examining.
Unfortunately, we frequently view people in the same way. Rather than making ourselves completely available to them, understanding them, sharing totally with them, really talking with them, we observe them or keep part of ourselves outside the moment of relationship. We do so either to protect our vulnerabilities or to get them to respond in some preconceived way, to get something from them. Buber calls such an interaction “I-It.”
It is possible, notes Buber, to place ourselves completely into a relationship, to truly understand and “be there” with another person, without masks, pretenses, even without words. Such a moment of relating is called “I-Thou.” Each person comes to such a relationship without preconditions. The bond thus created enlarges each person, and each person responds by trying to enhance the other person. The result is true dialogue, true sharing. (More …)
source: Buber, M. (1923/1958), I and Thou. Smith, R.G. (trans). New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.