I live with a man who frequently thinks he will not have a good time. This summer, we were travelling to Quebec City. He said, “I am not looking forward to this. I heard you have to speak French, that they don’t like people who don’t honor their language. I don’t want to go there, but I will go because you planned it.”
He loved it. It was his favorite. We walked Old Quebec, the Citadel, and the Plains of Abraham. He said he’d go back. I’ve heard him tell any number of people (who will listen–it’s sort of like watching someone’s slide shows).
This past weekend, we were headed to his family reunion in Ohio. He said, “I don’t know what to expect. I haven’t seen these some people for years. We’ll probably leave early.” I asked him about bringing food, but he knew nothing of the plans and said, “My cousin Julie said not to worry about it.” I immediately began to worry, though I’ve never gone hungry at a potluck. I wore my whitest sneakers.*
He loved it. He saw a cousin who was last seen sitting atop his motorcycle, getting ready to ride away, in 1970. Bill was thirteen. They instantly starting laughing. Now, they’re texting.
The thing is, in order to have any experience, not to mention to change your own preconceived notions or to change your mind, you have to show up. In order to have people believe you care, you need to be there.
These days, I have any number of people in my life who talk a good game.
“I was sick.”
I have previously quoted my mom on this one, but it bears repeating: “Everyone finds the time to do what they want to do, Jeri Lynn.”
And my dad: “Everyone has their own little bag of rocks to carry.”
So, you’re not fooling anyone.
Don’t want to attend? Don’t. But no one believes any one of the excuses that we’ve all heard before. It’s a choice. Barring cancer, destitution, or some other trauma, you are right where you want to be. People who want to get a thing done will face fear of rejection, fear of the unknown, and any number of hurdles to make it so.
Who among us hasn’t had someone say, “We should get together.” The truth is, yes, we should. People thrive through human contact. But if they don’t reach out, the genuine pleasure felt through being verbally wanted gradually withers in the harsh lack of invitation.
Often, I am exasperated by Sweet William’s reticence to step into the unknown. That part is easy for me. If I don’t know anyone, I can traverse the globe with none the wiser. I can ghost through a place like nobody’s business. But he’s made of different stuff. He meets people. He learns names. It’s personal for him. I try to exercise a measure of understanding for this.
Where he excels is in the clutch. In the dark spaces. I’ve told you, the man has attended more funerals and memorials than I ever will, because he leans in. Goes to hospitals. Sits at bedsides. He could counsel learning disabled adult men, people who most avoid, and who are almost completely overlooked by society, because he was present.
There are those of you who make yourselves available. You volunteer. You babysit. You deliver meals. You listen to the same stories, day after day, on the phone. You wipe tears. You laugh until you cry. You give a hug. You say, “Good lord, I have missed you.” You provide balm to the human condition in very real ways.
What about you? We all have fears. And we all have “rocks.” Okay. Alright. I hear you.
Now make the call. Hold the hand. Arrange the meeting or the lunch. Get in the car and go, even if you don’t know what will happen when you get there. What we need are more people showing up.
*You will recall that this blog is called “Two Pairs of Keds,” because I had one for play and one for going to family reunions in the summer. I was prepared. Thank you, momma in heaven.