People who exist largely outside themselves can miss discovering what’s living on the inside.

Surface-level conversations and relationships offer us little in the way of either self-discovery or discovering the depths of others. Humans are meant to connect on an intrinsic level. 

If we meet on more than a couple of occasions and don’t get beyond the weather or whatever traffic we ran into on our way to where we are, why continue to converse? What’s the point? Not that we have to relay every experience with every person—that would be overwhelming in a too-much-information way. But shouldn’t we share something fundamental that pulls us together? Shouldn’t our souls have a yearning to connect beyond the safe subjects?

Cham Lake

Still lakes have a lot happening underneath

Where do you exist?

Do you create a world for yourself outside personal relationships? Do you bury your soul in top-level dwelling or stretch into the boundless depths? Many years of my journals reflect me interacting with … whomever … versus random life observations. 

I never noticed this missing of current events from my diaries until reading Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s compilations. In her dairies, we read what she was feeling on the inside, through correspondence we learn what she shared with friends and what was going on in the world at large. She shared life with a bare heart.

As analytically introspective as I am, not many of my journals convey this. I have hidden my emotions when I should have been brave and blurted them out.

Would a reader know:

  • My sadness when USA troops were killed in the Beirut Bombing? (1983 for those too young to know.) 
  • Or the surprise of Reagan being shot, surrounded by his entourage?
  • How stunning it was when the Challenger spaceship exploded? That I let out an audible gasp at the shock of seeing it?
  • That September 11, 2001 stands alone as a day I deeply journaled about since it was the singular most globally impactful event in my life. That morning continues to resound—each time I board a plane or listen to Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising. The attacks of 9/11 encouraged a pulling together of humanity. The world witnessed a joining together of people from various backgrounds, despite some unnecessary divisions.

If I had reflected on world events from teen years onward, rather than those only within my immediate surroundings, would a reader know me better? How do I write now? Now, when I’ve come to believe the way to heal what divides us is to reach into the discomfort of sharing what is deeply personal?

Surface dwelling

If you’re good at dialogue, that top tier bit of communication known as small talk, I’m envious. I have a serious deficit when it comes to this ability. My desire is to know you. Now. I want information. I want to understand motivations, what makes you happy, what about living this life excites you? 

In America, at both business networking and casual parties, it’s agonizing to get asked for the three hundredth time: “Do you have kids?”

As if giving birth is the only thing of interest I could have achieved in life. 

I have yet to meet a European who asks me this question.

People with kids often fail to understand how invasive that question can be. For those of us without children, our honest answers could take us too far beneath the surface as an initial conversation. 

When I was young, responding honestly that I didn’t want to have kids, I’d invariably hear, you’ll change your mind. I marveled at how someone who didn’t know me could pronounce that. Why didn’t they ask why I was so sure I wouldn’t give birth? At sixty, there is a dead silence when I say, no, I do not have kids. It has become a point of humor with me and my husband. We’ll say, “We just got married seven years ago,” leaving the questioner to debate if they will pry with, “What about before that?” To date, no one has and the conversation is left hanging like a dangling participle.

There are topics less divisive than that one. Ask me, instead, where the most special place is that I have traveled and why it holds that spot in my heart.

Do you know people who live completely outside themselves? 

Those people live on the exterior, never seeking deeper enlightenment or trying to connect to what impels them to act. My sister and I had a dear friend, L, from Red Lodge. She moved like a whirlwind, going ninety miles an hour through the universe, being all things for all people except herself. Once, my sister and I voiced the same thought: if L ever slows down, she’ll implode. She didn’t get a chance to do that and prove us wrong. 

L bounced through town, five foot nothing, a compact, energetic woman with long blonde hair flouncing out keeping time with her steps, on a mission to somewhere—quickly. She was killed in a car wreck, never getting to enjoy right where she was in the moment.

Somewhere in my multitude of jobs, I worked with a fellow with whom I had many conversations. But unless he was doing the talking, he was only partially engaged and not intentionally hearing me. He rarely remembered what I told him and often repeated himself. This made me wonder what sort of relationship he had with his wife and children—how superficial their interactions must be. 

Lessons Learned Growing Up

It would be difficult to recall a single time when my parents weren’t totally present when we talked—even the wordy rambling of adolescent girls vying for attention at the same time. Dad was great at being in the moment with you. He helped me understand the lesson of being there when conversing. Mom was attentive because, as shy as she was, she wanted to know, she wanted to learn about the topic.

College philosophy class gave me this phrase from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” And while I’m not a boxing fan, Muhammad Ali was brilliant when he said, “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Staying in the solid shelter of my Cancerian crab’s shell doesn’t do me or the endlessly interesting folks I could be meeting any good—one of us has to open up and give honest conversation a try. 

Interacting with people we perceive as shimmering across the facade of life.

When meeting those surface folks, do you help them dig inside and move the conversation deeper? Do you push them beyond to where their spirit is and meet them below the surface? For social events, I mentally prepare with the goal of finding a person who looks more uncomfortable than I feel. I ignore my discomfiture and find a topic where we can share something more heartfelt than the weather.

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Read: What’s Your One Word Epithet?