For Too Many, It’s Always A Cold Climate

“When all is said and done, the weather and love are the two elements about which one can never be sure.” ― Alice Hoffman

As I sit here to put these thoughts together, Texas is experiencing an epic arctic blast. Down here in Houston there’s snow, sleet, and temperatures in the single digits. The entire state is experiencing rolling power outages. Here in Houston, we sort of know how to manage when a hurricane hits, but this is a completely different animal. Sheer panic and chaos.

While all this disaster is happening, I remain connected to people through internet and cell service. All across the city and state we are keeping each other up to speed on our conditions, offering a warm bed, status reports on power outages and sharing photos of current conditions. These social connections keep the fires lit in our lives and remind us that the darkness of night will always have lights to show us a path home.

“It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn’t use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like “What about lunch?” ― A. A. Milne

This makes me think about people who remain in the cold, metaphorically speaking, because they lack those essential connections to others. I recently spoke with a dear friend about a family argument that kept members from speaking for decades. People grow older and lose their family and friends. Moving away for all sorts of reasons can cause disruptions in friendship networks, people lose touch. Daily habits like TV, work at home, and computer time steal our time.

Mostly, the mindless busyness of our daily lives is what prevents most of us from doing the little acts of maintenance that are necessary to keep our people connections alive. We don’t make the time to send a note, make a call or follow up. Others in your life need the warmth of your unexpected presence.

“Time is the longest distance between two places.” ― Tennessee Williams

Last week, a friend passed away with all the suddenness of a bolt of lightening. He was so many things, but he was surely a friend to hundreds. He worked at it every single day. As we remembered, people laughed at the shared experience of having him call and sing happy birthday. He would stop and leave post-it notes on your front door to encourage. Your story was important to him, he remembered. While he was home from work sick, not knowing it was his last day on earth, he sat in bed ordering meals for homeless people.

I’d like to work harder at trying to be a friend to others, trying to warm up the coldness in someone’s life, maybe chase away the loneliness for another day.

Apparently, the meteorologists are predicting that it will be in the 70’s next week down here in Houston. Welcome to Texas weather. But I think that there are people all around who will remain in the cold because there’s no one near enough to care.

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” ― Henri Nouwen

(Always difficult for males who want to fix things)

Who Are You Talking To?

“Women speak because they wish to speak, whereas a man speaks only when driven to speak by something outside himself-like, for instance, he can’t find any clean socks.” ― Jean Kerr

I talk for a living.

These days I am living by myself. This situation is made even more solitary by the quarantine situation we are all enduring. I find myself roaming through the house doing a lot of talking aloud and often stop and wonder, “who are you talking to?”

I do realize that my situation leaves me brimming with words to spill out on to others when the rare social occasion arrives. This seems odd to me because historically I’ve not usually someone who feels the need to share – I will always entertain, but not always reveal. But these days, I can’t seem to stop talking.

Dear friends had dinner with me last week. I had told myself AGAIN to please keep my mouth shut and listen more. Halfway through the evening I realized I was feeling hoarse and suddenly became horrified – have I really been talking that much? Like some sort of prisoner released from solitary confinement out of the Russian gulag? What’s wrong with me?

Is this need for social connection really that powerful? This desire to communicate, to be heard, to share our experiences, to know deep down that we are not alone? I think I’m bumping into a yes answer to much of this. I can show you in all sorts of textbooks why this is true, but now I seem to know it from my own lived experience.

“When you have once seen the glow of happiness on the face of a beloved person, you know that a man can have no vocation but to awaken that light on the faces surrounding him. In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” ― Albert Camus

Even using technology; texting, emails, zooms, and face-timing have all made this life we are now living so much more bearable. We complained before about how technology had wormed its way into every crook and cranny of our living – but now we ought to be so thankful for these tools that allow human connections to continue – people are joking about that guy’s funny shirts on laptop meetings.

Where would I be if I didn’t have all of these people in my life constantly throwing out lifelines of connection to me? All those taken for granted bits of small talk, shared experiences and personal updates? These little webs of interconnection hold us together AND hold us individually together inside (keep us from turning into a cat lady).

Some Down and Dirty Rules for Talking

Listen to yourself: if you’re talking so much, so fast, dominating the time and space, then you’re not hearing yourself. You’re breaking the speed limit. Slow down when you’re no longer aware of what and how you’re speaking to everyone else in the room. Don’t become a mindless word processor that doesn’t know when to shut up or slow-down or back up.

Listen to the other person: The best conversationalists are not the talkers but the hearers. How do you know someone is hearing you? They look you in the eye, they ask follow up questions, their expressions match the mood you are setting with your story. Don’t stomp all over the end of each other’s conversation because you’ve become over-eager to tell your own story. As we get older I think this might happen because we’re all afraid if we don’t spit it out now, we will forget!

Watch your body language: Being isolated like this has kept us from being in shared space where we use body language to communicate so much of our experiences. Now, wearing a face mask will continue to make this difficult. The eyes become that much more essential conveyors of emotion. But if you’re not even going to look at someone or if you’re on a computer screen with your eyes off camera watching something else, body language is lost. This is such an important dimension of communication, when we miss out on it, it’s too late that we discover the poverty of the interaction.

Who ARE You Talking To?

What if this season of isolation was a time when you could do some more talking with God? Maybe you could make some good happen out of this misery? It’s been my experience that when we regularly talk with God our levels of frustration, fear and despair seem to diminish. Circumstances might not change, but our outlook and perspective is altered when we are consistently talking with God.

“For many of us prayer means nothing more than speaking with God. And since it usually seems to be a quite one-sided affair, prayer simply means talking to God. This idea is enough to create great frustrations. If I present a problem, I expect a solution; if I formulate a question, I expect an answer; if I ask for guidance, I expect a response. And when it seems, increasingly, that I am talking into the dark, it is not so strange that I soon begin to suspect that my dialogue with God is in fact a monologue. Then I may begin to ask myself: To whom am I really speaking, God or myself?” ― Henri J.M. Nouwen

I think this is exactly right! But maybe now there is time, time to be silent, time to be still and wait. Maybe during the lock-down in your life, there is time to listen for an answer – maybe even one that’s been there all along.

 

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