Sunday, September 11, 2011

Insulted at Church

I'm usually pretty easy going and can simply blow things off, but I'm finding it hard to not be personally insulted by something that happened in church today.

While attending mass for the past few months, I've been sitting in what they call the 'votive' room. This is a little room at the back of the church which doesn't have any doors, but is open to where mass is performed. They went the way of electronic candles a long time ago, so there is no smoke or anything funny coming from the 'candles'. It is not the 'cry' room where all of the families with very young, vivacious children go either.

Even though I wear a hat in mass every week, I still sit in the votive room because of my light sensitivities and because some people love to bath themselves in smelly stuff before going to church. This room has really been a win-win solution for me. There are a few regulars who also 'hang out' in the votive room to watch and listen to mass. Some of the people are a little older, some have walking difficulties and we even had someone with an oxygen machine in there once. The most we've had in there at one time was about five people although it will comfortably fit about seven.

Today there were only three of us; a married couple and me. They've been regulars in this room for the last few weeks although they used to sit in the last few pews before settling into the votive room. They don't know I sit in that room because of my sensitivities, but they always see me wearing my hats. Fortunately or maybe unfortunately, today was a day I could smell everything. No, none of those natural smells.

There is a point in our mass when we shake hands. They kissed and then took turns shaking my hand. As mass progressed, she put some lotion in her hand and shared some with him so they could both put it on. That looked so cute as it was transferred by what looked like a little hand shake or hold between them.

Weeelllll, due to my heightened sense of smell today, I could tell it was not hand lotion that they put on. I have a sensitivity to the smell of those hand sanitizers and today it hit my head like a brick wall.

If I am the only other person who they shook hands with, how could I not be personally offended when they use a hand sanitizer right after shaking my hand? What should I do next week if faced with the same situation?

Should I start wearing a face mask as well as my hat every week while sitting in the votive room? Should I sit in a seat that is a little further away from them in this pretty small room? Should I just bump their fists like the athletes do? Should I just wave to them? Should I leave the room before and avoid the whole handshaking situation all together?

I really don't need to shake their hands nor do I think they really want to shake mine. If there are other people in the room, they are going to do the 'right thing' and shake the other peoples hands. I could embarrass them by asking them to use the hand sanitizer outside of my 'sanctuary'.

I've got a week to think about how I want to handle this situation. I really don't want to embarrass them or make them feel uncomfortable, but I don't want to smell this in my haven especially on days I can smell everything. The problem with speaking to them is that they usually get there as mass is starting and scoot out as soon as it is finishing so it would be hard to talk to them. I really don't think it's appropriate to discuss anything during the mass. I could always hand them a note. At least they would know the result of their innocent (yet insulting) action has on me and then the ball would be in their court.

How would you handle this situation? It just happened so I haven't really given it much serious thought yet. I'm sure they have no idea - yet.



Kelly said...

You post caught my eye and as I've been out of town, I wondered how last week's mass went. When my mom was going through chemo, she was advised not to shake anyone's hands (or even be at church for that matter). She was stubborn in not wanting her chemo to affect her lifestyle so she still shook hands and used hand sanitizer. But I know that my aunt does not shake hands at mass as a rule. I'm not catholic, so I don't know the traditions or what shaking hands means there. But I think it would be perfectly okay for you to just nod your head acknowledging them during this period if it were just the three of you. Explain if you feel necessary, but I wouldn't think it were. If there are more ppl in the room, perhaps passing them a note saying that strong smells trigger your neurological disease and could they wait until they are out of the votive room to use it. I think it is perfectly okay to ask them not to use it there even if you don't give an explanation.
Best of luck. These situations are toughies.

MigrainePuppet said...

I never really questioned why we shake hands either so I just looked it up. Apparently, immediately before communion, we need to make peace with each other and to reconcile any differences or arguments before we receive communion. I did read a few stories of people just nodding like you suggested.

Last week: I ended up getting to church a little late which is something I never do, but it couldn't be avoided. Because I was a little late, I ended up sitting in a different seat than I have always sat in. It was not a good seat as the sun was right in my eyes the whole time and the hat didn’t help with the angle the sun was coming into the room. This would make it harder to try to try to have any type of intelligent conversation later on.

I did shake everyone’s hands as she did too, but as soon as she reached for the hand sanitizer, I stepped out of the room and came back when I figured the smell would have dissipated. I had decided I would try to talk to her about it, but I brought a note with me just in case there was some reason we couldn’t talk.

Because of the sun in the eyes and since they were leaving early again, I ended up handing her the note as she was leaving. In some ways, I feel like I took the easy way out, but I know she wasn’t expecting any type of conversation like that. My note was short and sweet. I didn’t go into a lot of specifics, but I did mention that I am in there because of different sensitivities including to some smells. I prefer to talk about the neurological disease, but only after gaging how I think someone would receive it.

You are right that some people have compromised immune systems and should take every precaution necessary. Thanks, Kelly.

Heather said...

I wouldn't feel offended. I don't know how Catholics take communion, but if they touch the bread before putting it in their mouths, the couple probably used hand sanitizer not because they shook your hand but because they touched door knobs to get in the church and in that room. I admire you for handing them the note; I don't think I could have even done that! I hope it helps!

MigrainePuppet said...

I actually thought it was more of an issue of germ phobia, but it could be an immune issue too. I was embarrassed by having to deal with this whole issue to begin with and really gain my strength from my on-line friends. The hand sanitizer is definitely only used after they shake hands.

Mass was strange today. He came in very late; she didn’t show up at all. At the point when we were to shake hands, he shook everyone else’s hand then turned to me and said “That was a very interesting note. How about we shake hands like this.” as his hand was stretched out and he bumped the backs of our straight hands. He didn’t use the hand sanitizer.

Obviously they didn’t understand my note which was really more about my sensitivities and was not accusatory. My issue is not with the hand shaking, it is with the smell of the hand sanitizer. I didn’t want to cause them any grief or heartache, I just wanted to make them aware of my sensitivity and why I sit in that room.

I don’t think we made peace with each other or reconciled our differences before we received communion today. He left right after communion. I feel bad, but I’m not going to apologize for my disease which I constantly struggle with. Thanks for your insight Heather.