A blog on getting to the heart of the matter.
I was talking to a dear friend on the phone a few weeks ago. (Jane, I’ll call her in this post.) We’d already discussed the world’s dilemmas and had moved on to more personal conversations about family. Over the past year or two, Jane’s mother had started experiencing beginning stages of dementia.
Jane spoke to me, her voice light: “On Sunday, I was explaining mom’s birthday gift to her. I finished telling her, and then, just a few minutes later, Mom said ‘Sometime you’ll have to show me how to use this.’
I heard Jane’s voice waiver slightly but she continued with the same lightness as before. “It was the first time she hadn’t remembered something in the same conversation, and it hit me just how bad this is getting.”
I was at a crossroads.
I had two ways I could respond to Jane.
The first would be the response that so many of us find ourselves defaulting to. It’s the more comfortable response we gravitate toward when we find ourselves facing conversations that reveal the challenging or painful realities of being human.
That response would go something like this: “Well that sucks, Jane. Can you imagine not being able to remember things? It sounds horrible. Aren’t you so glad we’re not old?”
Yes, that’s one response.
The other option is to get to the heart of someone, to connect on a deeper level, to actually hear them—their feelings, their pain—not to avoid the moment of vulnerability for the two of you.
I chose this route with my friend. “Jane. I’m so, so sorry.” Long pause. Deep breath. “I can’t imagine how they felt. What a hard thing to experience.”
And just like that, the barrier, the pause in her subconscious that waited, hesitant and tentative, to see how I would react, broke free. Jane felt understood. She felt connected to. She felt heard. Something deeper shifted for the two of us, deeper than the words I’d spoken.
So, what is it about us crazy people called human beings that makes us avoid moments like this? To make light when situations are anything but? Why can’t we just say what we mean? Why is it so typical to struggle to say what we’re really feeling?
For the longest time, I lacked the confidence and the ability to be vulnerable in those tiny moments. Sometimes I didn’t know how or what to say. Sometimes I did, but I lacked the ability just to say it. Why???? Why was I hesitating right before I opened myself up? Perhaps it was because I was too scared or self-conscious just to try. Just to say the words that would take me to the heart of the matter and heart of the person straight away.
I refuse to do that anymore. That was the old me. That was the me that hadn't started the process of growing myself. Now, I challenge myself to jump into that space as often as possible.
To my younger brother after his speech competition. “I’m so, so proud of you.”
To my husband returning home from an eight-day trip. “I missed the sound of your voice.”
To the customer service attendant: “Thank you so much for your help, I really appreciate it.”
To the man dressed in military fatigues next to me in Whole Foods. “Thank you so much for your service to our country. We are grateful for you.”
To my sister. “You are an incredible person.”
To my older brother. “I love you.”
To my friend. “I believe in you and your marriage. I know you two have what it takes.”
To my cousin. “I’m so sorry to hear that.”
Yes, sometimes it might feel awkward. But it gets easier. And the cool thing is, the other person feels SO GOOD. And then, magically (although a very real sensation) YOU feel good, too. It’s like a beautiful never-ending circle when you interact with those around you in this way.
IMPORTANT SIDE NOTE: I’m not suggesting taking on people’s pain, letting it eat you from the inside out, or letting them throw up all over you. If you know me, you'll know that that is the LAST thing I’ll ever recommend. If you’re friends with someone who constantly “throws-up” all over you, reevaluate your friendship, and most likely, let them go. I’m serious.
No, what I’m talking about here are the little moments that will connect you more fully with others. Try it. When you feel that voice inside of you, don’t clamp it down. Say the thing that will open you up to someone else. I can promise you, they’ll open up right back, and you’ll both end up feeling good. And, at the end of it all, isn’t that what life is really about?
Want to hear a bit more on this topic? Watch the video below.
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