As a child…
When I was a child, I was rather shy in the company of adults. So when my parents invited their friends round for a meal – and it was never questioned that my sister and I were part of the occasion – I had mixed feelings.
The meal itself was no problem. In fact it was something to look forward to. My mother was an excellent cook and always did something special for visitors. ‘Duchesse potatoes’ – mashed potato with added cream, butter and just a hint of nutmeg, piped into individual swirls – were a particular treat. And all I had to do was eat what was put on my plate. No problem there.
The after-dinner conversations were not so exciting – but nor were they very demanding. We children were just expected to sit quietly. I don’t remember whether I understood what they were talking about. I think I was happy enough just to listen to the grown-ups talking. (If this sounds extraordinary, bear in mind that I’m talking about the 1950s here. Those were the days when children fitted in with their parents’ lives, not the other way round!)
It was when I was left alone with the visitors that things got a bit difficult. I just didn’t know what to say! And I was just a bit anxious about what they would think of me when I did speak.
When I was old enough to begin thinking about this, I believed that it was up to the adult to take the initiative, not me. I was just the child! Not for me the confidence that I so admire in some of today’s little people, who will pour out their thoughts, describe their play and involve the adult in their imaginary worlds. I was waiting for some else to start the conversation.
As an adult
Fast forward 50+ years. I’m in a Pilates class. I notice a new face in the group. I introduce myself and say something welcoming. At the end of the class, I pick up the conversation. And I hear how grateful the newcomer was to have had someone to talk to.
Another time: the same situation in a different class. Before we all disappear into the night, I talk to a new participant about the meditation we’d just been led through. Something in what she says alerts me to the possibility that she had something troubling her. Just one gentle inquiry is sufficient for her to tell me that she was recently and unexpectedly bereaved. The conversation that follows is deeper and more meaningful than I could have expected.
And the point is….
Why am I telling you this? It’s because I want to encourage every one of us to reach out to our fellow human beings and take the initiative in establishing contact and connection. People love it when we do.