My thoughts pretty much whenever I’ve prepped a meal in the last five months since I last spent time with my girlfriend in person.
This past year, I moved away from home for work. Well, I actually used work as an excuse to explore a side of the country that I’ve never seen before. When I made the decision, the draw for adventure and hurdling into the unknown exceeded the pull of lifelong roots at home.
I felt sufficiently confident in my honed social skills to create a new social network, anyway. Visit some of the popular joints, chat up friendly strangers, get a haircut at the local barbershop – those are quick ways to get the lay of the land. As I became more settled into my living space, I started to host dinner parties and bring together different groups of people to create new bonds.
Yet while the social contacts grew, I still felt that I hadn’t really made many friends – the kind of people that…well, I didn’t know what was that missing element was. How fitting that it was a text message that interrupted my time of reflection to provide me with an answer:
“Hey! Do you want to come join us for dinner?”
The people who are in my inner circle of friends are the ones who will invite me to hang out with them. It’s a meaningful gesture that let me know that my company is appreciated enough that they want to spend time with me. And while I certainly hope that I haven;t taken for granted my friends who’ve wanted to hang out, it’s nice to know that there are people who want to gather me into their circle of friends, too.
Talking to people in public does not come naturally to me, yet I crave human interaction. Having a history of being in new situations regularly, I figured that I needed to learn the skill of social interaction. It took many awkward conversations before I was comfortable with small talk.
There was a type of person who always fascinated me: charming, full of stories, warm. Often I’d get along with them, but sometimes the conversation was flat.
Around the same time as I was reflecting on these encounters, a friend informed me of his newest hobby: cycling. He explained how cyclists need to find a good cadence – that is, a baseline pedaling rhythm – to set a foundation for their subsequent approach and training for races.
That idea helped me to string along this expression: conversation cadence. Everyone has a rhythm not only in their speech pattern, but also in their thoughts and content.
So now I know that I tend to assess conversation cadence when I meet people. If we both have a rhythm that seems compatible, then it’s likely we’ll have a good time in each other’s company. If we don’t, then it’s okay to politely thank them for the brief chat and walk away. It’s nothing personal, and I’m happy to buzz around a room to find a fruitful conversation.
Over the course of a recent dinner party, a guest elaborated on a familiar question:
“Do I look fat in this [garment]?”
He went on to say that it was really a question about honesty and loyalty. Does the questioner really want to whether the garment is flattering to the figure? Is the questioner prepared to know that it’s the body underneath the garment that is actually overweight? And is there an underlying inquiry about sustained commitment in spite of deviation from a public perspective of beauty and fitness?
Worthwhile consideration before answering the question. Proceed with caution!
You don’t know people until you’ve shared a meal with them.
I don’t know who inspired me with this thought, but eating with people is a habit that I’ve honed. Food is a great equalizer: everyone has to eat! Our guard comes down when we partake in this ritual of consuming food, which facilitates a deeper level of interaction and sustained familiarity.
I’m living away from home and have been content to keep my place deliberately utilitarian and, quite frankly, uninviting. But since I’ll be around in my current location for the foreseeable future, I’ve decided to have more shared meals with interesting people I encounter. One way to start is to cook for them, and I’ve hosted a few dinner parties already. Things are off to a great start, and I’m looking forward to not only more home-cooked meals, but also new friendships.
On a unhurried spring evening, I dropped in on a gathering of good friends that I see irregularly. Many came out, but I settled in a good one-on-one conversation with a longtime friend.
Our usual conversation revolves around ideas and schemes and analysis, though this time it veered into a dimension we don’t usually explore: her relationship with her partner. At the moment, he was away for work and their contact was limited. His access to technology was poor and unreliable, which made for frustrating attempts to stay in contact. I listened intently as she articulated her irritation about missing elements of her relationship that had, up until then, been readily available: sending text messages, airing out unfiltered minutiae about the day, running fingers through hair. Her descriptions of this period of disconnect made me think of the closeness that they normally shared.
So while I tried to be a good friend and let her vent, I didn’t fully understand…the felt need that she was expressing. That conversation has stuck with me, though. Maybe it’s because I just didn’t expect her to feel that way. It wasn’t until I recently had a series of fulfilling conversations that helped me find words for the following thought:
The closer you are with a person, the more interesting you find the mundane details of his/her life.
One of the songs that we sung at church this past weekend was “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing”. I like hymns in general for the way that they contain timeless observations about the life of faith. This hymn in particular has two lines that I keep in my mind often:
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace
This line speaks to how we can be out of tune to God. I like that it’s a desire to want to get back to a place to praise Him. My decisions will draw me nearer to or farther from God, and this speaks to the familiar trek back to Him.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Ah, the regularity of my wandering heart – even to the One who I’ve committed my life! The life of faith has its ups and downs. What I want isn’t always what I know I want to want. I like the honesty of the line.
Ah, makes me think about a recurring theme in my faith about brokenness and resetting my life priorities. Reminding myself about who God is and where I place my trust sets a good foundation/home base that makes the rest of life much easier to navigate.
This is what the Lord says: “Don’t let the wise boast in their wisdom, or the powerful boast in their power, or the rich boast in their riches. But those who wish to boast should boast in this alone: that they truly know me and understand that I am the Lord who demonstrates unfailing love and who brings justice and righteousness to the earth, and that I delight in these things. I, the Lord, have spoken! (Jeremiah 9:23, 24 NLT)
One of my favorite hobbies is to play hockey. My secret fear, though, is that my enthusiasm for the game isn’t matched by a reasonable level of adequacy at my favorite sport. And just to add to that concern, I just had to be interested in the position with the most scrutiny: the goaltender.
The goalie is welcomed at any pick-up game – mostly because it’s better to shoot on a person than the shooter tutor or the posts – but can quickly be disappointing if the goals come too easily.
And at today’s pick-up game, the goals came way too easily.
After being burned by several weak goals that hit the far corners, I really had to evaluate what I was doing wrong. My first inclination was to blame my equipment, but I already knew that was a weak excuse. And the pace was fairly relaxed so I was reading the play okay. I was getting beat cleanly even when I was set for the shot. But was I in position?
I realized that I had overcompensated for one area of my game and overlooked its pitfall. One fundamental element of goaltending is to “challenge the shooter”, meaning to advance out of the net towards the attacking player with the puck so as to reduce the player’s perceived sightline of the net and to get in to the way of the puck’s trajectory past the goal line. The potential for error is in challenging the shooter without being “square to the puck” (another goaltending fundamental skill), meaning that goalie’s positioning isn’t aligned adequately (equally?) to minimize openings towards the net.
Shorter goalies (like me!) are advised to be more aggressive in challenging the shooter because of the naturally larger exposed areas. But in my zeal to look big to the shooter, I didn’t move out properly relative to the net. And so while I did do one thing right, I totally overlooked another area to my detriment. No wonder those shots were out of my reach – I basically was giving players half the net to shoot at and was left wondering how these players had such deadly accurate shots.
So I played less aggressively, was more aware of my position relative to the net, and made more saves. Yay.
(I originally wanted to post an article that I had read a while ago about effective learning through active feedback and adjustments in light of errors. I would’ve tied it to its application in sports and my experience at pick-up hockey, hence the title of this post. But since I can’t find the specific article that I had in mind, I started to write and this story came out instead. )
One of my biggest reasons for post-holiday blues is running errands by myself and going back to being alone.
I flew home this holiday season to spend time in the company of people I like, and my days were jam-packed with meals and beverages and walks and snacks. Those encounters refreshed my soul, no doubt, which made the absence of these people all the more apparent as I drove and walked in silence.
My remedy, however, has been to focus on the relationships that exist where I am now. The errands I ran were to acquire necessary supplies to host people for a dinner party. Good people and good conversations can happen anywhere, and I’ll savor what I have now and build on that.