Monday, August 30, 2010

"Can't You Sit Still?"

Yesterday, I was too warm at the 9 am service at my hUUge congregation and could not get comfortable. Being in a hurry before leaving home, I had not put my hair up, which was adding to my feeling too warm.

As soon as the service ended, an older woman sitting behind me asked, "Can't you sit still?"

"What?" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"Can't you sit still? You were moving all around during the service and flipping your hair. I was so distracted that I couldn't concentrate on the service."

"No, I can't sit still. I always fidget," I said, quite surprised by the rudeness of this woman, a fellow member of my congregation.

"Then I'll be careful not to sit behind you in the future."

WTF? I was quite upset, and so was my spouse when I told him what happened. As Unitarian Universalists, there are certain truths that we have been taught. One is that you cannot change someone else's behavior, only your own. Another is that we are different than each other, but that difference is to be accepted, perhaps even celebrated. A third is that we are an inclusive faith, welcoming the stranger as ourselves.

Her response was one of such entitlement and arrogance -- she was distracted, so I needed to behave differently. I would hope that most people at a worship service, if bugged by a another congregant's movement, would take a few deep breaths and try to ignore the situation. If that doesn't work, simply get up and move to a different seat. At my church, now that we have a lovely, large auditorium, we have plenty of chairs to choose from.

This incident has me thinking more about how much different cultures view the body. Some cultures do put a high value on being quiet and subdued and keeping the body still. In certain cultures, it has long been thought barbaric or sinful to yield to bodily needs. In contrast, I put a high value on physical comfort. When my body has what it needs, I feel alert, happy and ready to engage fully with my surroundings. If it doesn't, my priority is to get comfortable.

Here's to being more accepting of those who participate in worship differently.


Justine Urbikas said...

I feel you! I like being comfortable and personally for me that involves moving around a bit. also, I'm a fidgiter and a doodler and often get told that I should pay attention to things, and I'm just like, wtf, this is HOW I pay attention, just because you pay attention by STARING at the speaker with your hands folded and ankles crossed doesn't mean there aren't other ways of paying attention.

Elizabeth J. Barrett said...

Thanks, Justine!