I have a heightened sense of smell. I turn up my nose at only a whiff of a strong scent, good or bad. Every time I became pregnant, my sense of smell became more acute. While pregnant with Jed, I visited the zoo with Riley, and after walking by the penguin house, I literally ran to the bathroom because of the smell-induced morning sickness. I’m convinced my sense of smell never returned to normal levels after each baby was born. And, I guess that’s good because no one told me that as a mom I’d need a nose that could detect anything out of the ordinary at the slightest hint.
Who knew I’d willingly lift a baby’s bottom to my nose to determine if the diaper was dirty? I can’t count the times I’ve walked around the kitchen sniffing in an effort to find an offending odor. There may be food in the sink that hasn’t made its way completely through the garbage disposal, a forgotten dish rag may have become wet and gross, the garbage may need to be taken out, or a left over in the refrigerator may have turned on us. But believe me, I will track down the source and eliminate it. I’ve had to figure out exactly who needs the first shower after the kids come home from practices. And, much to my dismay, I’ve picked up a pair of underwear near a basket of clean laundry and taken a sniff to determine if it was clean or not. It was not. I’ve even crawled around on the floor with my nose an inch from the carpet to locate the precise whereabouts of the dog’s or cat’s accident.
Let’s just say, I’ve stuck my nose in plenty of places it did not belong in the name of motherhood. But the common factor in all of the experiences when I’ve smelled things I’d rather not, is an undercurrent of affection for the people I hold most dear. It’s my job to take care of them.
When it comes to those outside of our immediate circles though, we’re often told that we shouldn’t stick our noses in other people’s business. But I’ve started wondering if we use that advice as an excuse to avoid being involved in the lives of others. “I don’t want to bug him,” I’ve told myself. “I don’t want to upset her,” I’ve said. So, I haven’t asked about the person’s health, family situation, or prolonged absence from church. Worse yet, I might not talk to them at all because to speak without acknowledging the issues would be even more awkward.
But our reluctance to talk to others about their problems may lead to more suffering. If no one checks in on them, they may become isolated and lonely or feel worthless because no one seems to care. Instead of protecting them from discussing their problems, we protect ourselves from unease but end up acting selfishly.
When I was younger, my mother used to call me “Nosy Rosy” because I wanted to know everything about everything. She said I would be in another room and yell, “what?” if there was a bit of conversation I didn’t hear accurately while eavesdropping. Maybe the adage about sticking to our own business is partly because, at times, people have less than noble motivations. If our curiosity flows from a desire to spread the juicy information to others, then we should keep to ourselves.
But if we truly care about people, we must take a chance and enter into the difficult conversations. Perhaps we preface the conversation by telling them if they don’t want to talk, that’s okay. We need to let them know that our inquiry stems from our concern for their wellbeing. They can refuse to engage in conversation, but at least they will remember and appreciate that we asked in the first place.
The next time we say we don’t want to stick our noses into someone else’s business, let’s think about why. If the answer is to avoid our own discomfort, then we should rethink our response. Expressing our love and concern to other people is valuable to them and to us. Let’s take a deep cleansing breath and get a little bit nosy.