During our recent travels to Kauai, I made some observations about personal space. Air travel in particular requires immense patience at the best of times, but for those of us with a measure of claustrophobia, the inside of a crowded aircraft can surely ratchet up the stress. I find it especially unsettling when I've taken my seat and the passengers just keep a'comin' on board in a steady stream, over-burdened with stuffed-to-the-gills carry-on items.
There are, of course, many places where I revisit space issues: yoga class, crowded crosswalks, grocery aisles, swimming pools, freeways, classrooms, and even inside the domain of my own home. Yet I like to believe I'm fairly practiced in extending grace and in claiming my own personal space and being mindful of the difference.
Today I had the opportunity to test that theory. A gentleman was using the deep end of the pool when the guard set up additional lap lanes around him. I slipped in the opposite end and began swimming laps. We met up at the shallow end and I lifted my head and asked, "Would you like to split the lane?" Common practice, fairly straightforward, right? He replied that he was almost done and would be leaving soon, adding, "I'll just stay out of your way." I felt awkward; had I bulldozed this man's space? Intellectually, I thought I'd been civil. But his response lead me to think that I was claiming space and he would yield no matter where I placed myself. He hadn't said that, but it's what I surmised.
What happened next was this. We ceased swimming and just talked. The goggles came off. It was more than civil; it was downright friendly stuff. After a few minutes he shared his name, asked mine, and extended his hand. He claimed his space, I claimed mine, and we bridged that narrow place between us with a simple handshake.
Personal space, hospitality, grace. Simple stuff. And yet, I'd wager, a work in progress for us all.