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.
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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.
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.
“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.
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.