Over the past few years I have  made every effort to relate to the needs of others in the hope of becoming a more balanced individual: This big idea amounts to expecting less out life for myself while pouring more into other lives. Call it self-sacrifice or whatever, it comes with some big  challenges. That often means trying to become that active listener that engages feelings and sensibilities that I may not necessarily be comfortable with. Recently, a friend shared with me that he was angry with his doctor for not releasing his loved one from hospital after a lengthy stay. As far as he was concerned, sufficient healing had taken place and now was the time to discharge her to his tender care. As I listened to him venting his frustration over not being able to be reunited with the most important person in his life, I struggled to find the right words to say. It would be easy for me to weigh in with some reassuring words that might impart hope to a very discouraged man. It was obvious by the way he was leaning into me that he was eagerly seeking my verbal assent for what it was worth. Unfortunately, it wasn’t there because I couldn’t find the appropriate words to say. It was natural for my friend to express the lovesick need to have his wife back after a lengthy absence. Regularly visiting the hospital was not going to cut it. As I occasionally remarked on Victor’s plight, it suddenly struck me that his problem had  become mine. I had no way of effectively responding to his concerns without losing  my objectivity. After all, Victor sincerely believed his wife was ready to return home immediately. Six weeks was more than enough time for healing and, didn’t they know that real recovery stands a better chance in the comfort of one’s home. Having accompanied him once for a hospital visit, I could see that this might to be the last place to make this happen. First off, the other three occupants in the adjoining beds looked permanently zonked out, unable to even hold a conversation or help themselves. So why was she stuck here in medical limbo anxiously awaiting her release? All I could offer for such an occasion as this was some trite exhortation to hang in there while the doctors did their best to meet this dear woman’s needs. Years before, I, too, had been hopelessly trapped in a hospital ward for what seemed like an eternity, fighting a miserable staph infection with little encouragement from my doctor, and a deathly ill patient across from me struggling with end-of-life issues.  And then I did something that I have become much better at recently: I quietly, and somewhat subtlely proceeded to change the conversation by getting him to switch channels and relate to something more positive and immediate: the beautiful weather and scenery visible all around us. Oh, yes, I could have remained silent but I don’t know for how long because, if I were in his shoes, I, too would be looking for answers from anyone he trusted. In dilemmas like this, I sometimes feel like Will Somers, Henry VIII’s court jester: unable to do anything except to intentionally distract the other person from the big problem at hand.