I told a friend recently that I struggle with “small talk.” I never know what to say when someone says, “Hey! What’s new?”
In my head I think… uh…what’s new? Well, I bought a bracelet that says “YOU ARE ENOUGH” because I need a reminder every damn day that I am enough. That what I am doing / contributing / learning / being is enough. It made me cry when I read the words and so I bought it. (But I don’t say this.)
I think … I’m getting up every morning to meditate. And some days I crave getting on my mat and being in that quiet place of solitude before my children rise and the day takes off, and other times I struggle through it and don’t want to get out of bed and every fiber of my being resists it. But I still try. And I don’t understand why the things that are so good for me are the same things that I resist. (But I don’t say this.)
I think … My kid got sick in the middle of Starbucks and I had to give us both a half-assed shower in the bathroom and find other clothes for both of us to put on and apologize profusely to the underpaid barista who is now mopping up the contents of Hadley’s stomach and feel so under qualified and overwhelmed to be the adult taking care of the situation right now. (But I don’t say this.)
I think … Every day I’m trying to open my eyes + ears to the white privilege I experienced as a child growing up in the deep south. Every day I try to peel back a layer and examine how I have contributed to the racial divide in America today, and how I can begin to bridge that divide and teach my children and live differently and not just know multiculturalism as a word but as our authentic experience. Embracing diversity in my actions so that I can be part of the shift. (But I don’t say this.)
So that’s “what’s new” but I don’t think that’s what you were looking for. So I smile and nod and make an awkward response about having a new coffee routine that really fills my soul er uh I mean really fills my cup – haha – awkward laugh makes it less awkward, right?
And then I wonder when the authentic response – the vulnerable response – the response that invites someone into my life – is actually the most appropriate one. Why do I stand at the threshold and not walk through? Why don’t I extend the invitation?
And then when the opportunity comes to reciprocate the question – how are you? What I mean is – how is your soul today? How is your heart today? Where is your head today? I am safe, and I want to know how you are doing. I care about the You beneath the surface. I care about how you care for your sacred self, how you show up and engage and thrive or fail.
I care about how your date was with your husband with whom you haven’t felt a connection in months, how you experienced celebrating the first high holiday since your mom passed, how it’s going navigating a new relationship after your divorce.
I don’t care about what you do for work. I care if you love your work. I care if it meets you in a place that is meaningful and fulfilling and if not, why do you tether yourself there?
I care how you spend your time, what books you’re reading, how you align your values and priorities and do life accordingly.
I remember a long time ago, my partner at the time told me that I wasn’t a good conversationalist. Assuming he was correct, I started watching football and reading books from someone’s best sellers list, and engaging in the politics of the day, all so that I could become better at engaging in small talk with people.
As it turned out, following football or politics certainly allowed me to ask questions and have some knowledge about current events that I could speak to. But I never wanted to talk stats, or if I thought there were or weren’t weapons of mass destruction hidden in a middle eastern desert. Looking back, it was such a false sense of connecting with people for me. I didn’t leave a conversation feeling heard or seen or valued for my contribution. I left the conversation. That’s all it was, a conversation, not a connection. Even back then, while still asleep at the wheel, what I truly wanted was connection. I sought it through conversations about sporting events and work and the latest John Grisham book.
These days I do less of those conversations. One-on-one or small group conversations are my jam and I can feel more of that connection I so desperately crave. I don’t watch football anymore. I follow politics because I find it relevant to my life, my community, necessary in finding my voice, not because I think I need to have a conversation with someone. In honoring that craving, I have found a handful of people who will go there with me. “How are you” isn’t going to elicit a “fine, good, thanks!” response. It’s going to yield a deep sigh, a thoughtful answer about how their ancestors are meeting them, how the hard conversation went, how the universe unfolded to offer a new perspective. I want to engage in the meaningful talk, and as a result, I have been gifted a circle of those who want to give and receive the same.
I miss out on some of the details of life, because I don’t do the small talk. Because I don’t know what her husband does, or how they make money, or what they’re doing this weekend.
And then I wonder … is the small talk part of the connection?