Beautifully Awkward, Take 2: Melissa Shares Deep Vulnerability

photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc
photo credit: ShellyS via photopin cc

A week into the Beautifully Awkward Project, I’m still high on the awkward. And the beautiful is starting to show itself to me.

I’ll tell you about it tomorrow. It involves a lame-duck soccer coach and a pivotal out-of-town tournament. For U11 girls. Small kids, big problems.

Today, though, the floor is Melissa’s.


# # #

There are times in life when it’s a beautiful thing to be quiet in conversation.

This is what I thought last night, as I approached a room where the mean age hovered around 70. I’d been invited to a discussion group, mixed men and women, where a subject was proposed and then discussed with relative vigor. I was the pup.

photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc
photo credit: photosteve101 via photopin cc

I expected economics, Medicare or the political situation in Syria. I expected a subject with imposing intellectual heft. And, as one who has absolute reverence for those who’ve been around longer than me, I planned on keeping my mouth shut.

I held the objective of the Beautifully Awkward Project like a talisman. Stay vulnerable, I thought, offer what you can.

And, as one who tries to figure out what I can offer well ahead of time just so I’ll – you know – feel prepared (read: not awkward), I decided that my offering was silence. Deference.

Which tells you just how unprepared I was.

Francine, a stunning 92 year-old Parisian with bright blue eyes, hosted the group. Approximately eight of us sat on velveteen couches with small glass tables perfectly angled at every corner. Francine introduced me to everyone and then gave me a sly grin.

“We have two contenders for tonight’s discussion,” she announced, her blue eyes moving around the room. They’re going to discuss economics, I thought. I know it. That French guy – Thomas something or other. I’ll have nothing to say. For me, economics begins and ends with balancing my checkbook. I tucked quietly into my chair.

“Paul has suggested that we discuss addiction,” Francine continued, soft hands folded neatly in her lap. “And Tom has requested that we put sex on tonight’s plate.” Everyone smiled and grabbed peanuts that had been set on the side tables in crystal cups. Jerry, a 72 year-old psychiatrist commented that I’d come on the right night. Bushy eyebrows were raised. Tom ran a hand through his silvery hair and asked if anyone knew the urban usage of the term “pegging.” There was a hilarious flurry of asides about pegs and their usages. Paul made a joke about the fact that there were only active verbs in the bedroom. Francine reined us in. I smiled to myself. I hadn’t heard the term “pegging” but leave it to this group to introduce me to new slang for the beast with two backs.

This is going to be easy, I thought. And maybe not so awkward. I grabbed some peanuts.

photo credit: John Twohig Photography via photopin cc
photo credit: John Twohig Photography via photopin cc

“Let’s talk about addiction,” Francine declared. “Well save sex and pegging for another night.” There was unanimous agreement.

And my heart did a little jog to the left.

I didn’t know if I could stay silent and reverent here. I also didn’t know if I could talk.

Francine looked at me with kind eyes. She sat back and waited.

And what followed, stunned. Paul wasn’t sure about addiction. He worried a lot about his sugar intake. There were agreements that nighttime chocolate binges weren’t healthy but were they addictive? Reading was brought up.

“I’m a little worried about myself,” said Jean, reclining slightly. “I wake up at night and pinch and splash water on my face so I can stay up to read. It’s not healthy. I don’t get out.” She looked only mildly concerned. Organizational impulse was brought up as a possible compulsion. Travel. Love. They were all reaching and I knew it.

And then Tom looked directly at me. “Let’s let the newbie share,” he said.

And so I did.

Because, of all the possible topics they could have picked, I happen know a lot about this one. More, it seemed, than any of them. It blew my mind that all of them had been untouched. On this subject, they were the newbies.

photo credit: elycefeliz via photopin cc
photo credit: elycefeliz via photopin cc

I explained the difference between behavioral addictions and physiological addictions. I said that some addictions stem from abusive recreation and some from pure physical dependence. I told them that passion and love are things that give life meaning. Addictions, I said, strip meaning away. I described the deep insomnia I’d suffered after my second child and of the drugs my doctor gave me without a word of warning.

I spoke for a long time and their well of listening was deep. They were stunned. They asked innumerable questions, all of which I answered.

At the end of the night, as we said our goodbyes with smiles and clasped hands, I marveled. Often our deepest gift is our deepest vulnerability. And on this night, I learned that those with wisdom show it not through intellectual repartee, but through a kind of listening that has it’s foundation in love.

listening quote

29 thoughts on “Beautifully Awkward, Take 2: Melissa Shares Deep Vulnerability

  1. This was beautiful.

    Addictions strip meaning away, yes.

    One is never too old to stop learning.

    There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth.

    Thank you for sharing.

  2. Definitely gave me such food for thought this morning and I with the majority on this and who know this would indeed be just what you and they needed. Beautifully written and thank you for sharing with us today.

  3. Thanks so much Janine, Ksbeth and Jaded!

    It’s 5am where I live. My son woke at four and wanted to sing alphabet songs over and over again.

    I was so nervous about sharing this with all of you! And in that room that night, the synchronicity was crazy weird. I was so ready to be the student. Who knew that roles would shift and my heart would thunder in my chest for a bit!

    And so true – we are only old when we stop learning.

  4. You know, this whole Beautifully Awkward Project has definitely upped the vulnerability quotient in me. I’m realizing how much of my life I spend looking to make myself feel safe and loved. I’m still such a little kid. I’m starting to think that it’s a room that might feel safe but that it ends up trapping me and limiting my vision.

    So glad for the opportunity to do this project with you, Eli!

    1. That’s the design, right? We all do this, and operate under that safety. You’re showing me I have a long way to go to get out of that. And I thought I was doing OK.

      I might have been. But we can do better.

  5. It’s amazing the things that happen when you least expect them, but also when you may have needed them the most. It sounds like the right time, right place for all involved. Thank you for sharing this!

  6. Whoa.. that part about addictions stripping away meaning really got to me.

    And I’m so.. endeared to Jean. I get that about reading.. I really do. Paul too.

    You were the teacher and the student. And what a beautiful post.

  7. So much good feeling on this site!! Can we all get together on a porch somewhere and share a beer? I’ll be the one with an awkward, shit eating grin on my face. Eli, you’ve created a beautiful space here with beautiful people connected to it. What luck for me to jump in, legs flying!!

    1. I hope I can do enough to keep the tribe together Melissa! Cold ones might be the way. I do my best to get to be part of their communities, too, because there are some loyal, incredible people who grace this space every week.

  8. Wow, I am stunned. So much for keeping your mouth shut, huh!
    So you got hung up on sleeping pills for a while? I am afraid of taking them. Rather stick to insomnia and Coke Zero. And Facebook, and chocolate.
    Will you go back to that group? I am dying to hear about pegging!

  9. So many people just talk AT you, or are simply waiting for their turn to speak: they don’t actually HEAR. You will notice the difference between someone is merely listening to you; and someone who actually HEARD you. That’s the kind of deep and active listening we all crave. Brave on you for sharing and taking the risk to be heard.

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