Another post from my favorite guest-blogger – my daughter. Enjoy!
Most people know a lot of other people. But when we see them, while we might catch them up on the basic details of our lives since last time, there isn’t much of a market for the honest, one-on-one conversation. I have family members I get together with once or twice a year, and usually I only get a chance to talk to half of the people at the gathering. As we were saying good-byes at the end of our Second Night of Thanksgiving celebration (don’t ask), my third cousin’s girlfriend said she wished we’d gotten a chance to sit down and talk. So did I, come to think of it, but I hadn’t realized that until she said it. Because who spends their annual family gathering getting to know their third cousin’s girlfriend? That’s not how it’s supposed to work. But there are a lot of people I know that I’ve been meaning to get to know better, and when I take the time to have a deeper conversation with them, I’m always glad I did.
Last summer, I threw my parents a surprise anniversary party. It was an absurd and incredibly exhausting experience, but it had some unexpected benefits. During my frantic rush to set up, I was too stressed to be properly polite to family and friends. Instead of making small talk, we were being ourselves. I told my mom’s friend that if he set out the cheeses and crackers I would love him forever. I stopped a distant cousin in the hallway to ask if it was really hot in here or if I was just sweating. Multiple people who I hadn’t spoken to individually in years cornered me to tell me what an amazing thing I’d done and to tell me to relax; they could take control of the kitchen now. Later on, when I had finally calmed down and was socializing with the guests, I got the chance to sit down and really talk to a few family members and family friends that I’ve always admired, but never spoken to for a significant length of time. Surprise surprise, both these experiences of honesty were really nice.
I’ve even discovered that it can be nice to really talk and over-share with people you don’t know well at all. Sometimes you have to tell some embarrassing stories in order to form a friendship. Sometimes you have to share with whoever is nearest, because you need to vent to someone. Nothing teaches you to talk about yourself to new acquaintances like freshman year of college. It took me a little while to get comfortable sharing awkward stories with my hall mates, but it’s these fragments of slightly humiliating honesty that a friendship is built on.
Most people know a lot of other people. And most people know very little about the other people in their lives. There is beauty in opening up to people, in sharing tidbits of one another’s lives and coming to understand them better. There is beauty in sitting down with one distant relative at a family gathering and learning their quirks and embarrassing childhood stories. There is beauty in being honest and yourself in conversation, even if you’re just asking someone to set out the cheese platter. There is beauty in forming friendships through your willingness to share and listen. To all the people out there – I challenge you to have a real conversation with someone today. To all the people in my life – I challenge you to have a real conversation with me at some point. With any luck we’ll both be glad we did.