Life Notes: Can We Talk?
Missing out on the real message

I  recently had to miss a book group meeting. I was heartbroken, not only because I’d read and loved the book, but also because those evenings are so intense and stimulating in ways that have become more urgent to me.

I know this may sound like an overstatement, but people don’t talk to each other anymore. Not face-to-face. Not let me see your expression or hear the intonations of your voice. The kind where we say our piece, then listen to another’s.

I love conversation. And I miss it. I love the way we argue gorgeously in our book group about nuance and meaning – and then sit around a table and talk some more over decaf coffee.

I miss conversation every time I get an email from somebody I really care about. I’m hungry for the kind of connection that used to be our way of life. And I still have it with a few people.

I have it with Joycie, my former Philadelphia next-door neighbor who had the audacity to move to Portland, but still remembers how to have a rich and textured phone conversation that can stretch into hours.

I have it with my sister, a world-champion talker who loves to dig deep.

And when they can stop the world and get off for a while, I have delicious conversations with each of my daughters. Just not nearly often enough.

I think to live fully, we need to reflect with our voices and words and questions and sometimes even with tears. We all want to be listened to. And we should long to listen in return.

But modern life is impatient with reflection. Maybe that’s because it doesn’t produce anything tangible or give us status or money or make us lose weight or get prettier or more handsome. Please note those priorities.

We humans now seem to live the emotional equivalent of a fast-food existence. Nobody seems to ponder anymore. In essence, no one wants to just sit around and talk. Our tech toys have given us a shorthand way to communicate, so that now we can have arguments on our keyboards, screen-to-screen. Or with Siri speaking for us. How cool is that?

I hate how our most basic communication is watered down.

“Lighten up,” people tell those of us who still want to dig in. I assume that “lighten up” means bug off.

I’ve learned that yes, we can run faster and farther from feelings that conversations might bring, but no one really gets away in the end. That unspoken emotional business is lurking there, fangs and all, waiting to pounce. And no tweet or text can substitute.

It’s this simple – and this elusive. We need to get back to talking to one another. Like my book group pals do.

Conversations that matter sometimes get messy. But it sure helps in every relationship I can think of – work, friendship, parenting and, oh my yes, marriage, to push through the issues you want to avoid – in person.

It feels intensely right to tell another person what you need to, even if you ramble (I do) and get a tad overly emotional (I also do that).

Once, when my husband and I were somehow off-key in our connection, we read Dave Barry’s essays to one another. He’s one of the funniest writers around.

Of course, we could read them silently to ourselves, but we discovered how marvelous it can be to be read to – and to laugh together. It got us over that hump.

Words matter. We all know that. And how we receive them matters, too.

So I hope that it can be said of me while I’m here and after I’m gone, “She was a good talker and a good listener.” Because one without the other is not nearly enough.

October 2015
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