People who exist largely outside of themselves can miss what’s going on inside and sharing their depths with others.

How do you deal with surface-level friendships? Do you wonder what’s the point? If we meet more than a couple of times and don’t get beyond the weather or whatever traffic we ran into to arrive at the event we’re attending, why continue to chat? Humans were meant to connect on a deeper level. Not that we have to share every emotion with every person, but shouldn’t there be something that pulls us together?

Do you ever wonder if you allow yourself to exist outside of personal relationships—in the world at large? As if you keep burying your soul in friendships, whether they are surface-dwelling or of 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. She found the balance between what she was feeling on the inside, sharing with friends through correspondence, and what was going on in the world.

She shared these things with a totally bare heart.

Would a reader know how stunned I felt when the Challenger spaceship exploded, the surprise when Reagan was shot, or the sadness when our troops were killed in the Beirut Bombing? (1983 for those too young to know of this.) September 11, 2001 stands alone as a deeply journaled about day because it was the singular most globally impactful societal event in my life. It continues to resound—every time I board a plane or listen to Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising.

The attacks of 9/11 were both deeply personal and a pulling together of humanity, with all of us witnessing a joining together of people from all backgrounds, and sadly some unnecessary divisions.

If I had reflected on worldwide events throughout my writing, from teen years to my fifties, rather than those taking place only within my immediate surroundings, with immediate friends, would the casual reader know me any better? Have I wanted them to until now when I’ve come to believe the only way to heal what divides us as humans is to get deeply personal?

Do you know people who live completely outside themselves? 

They live on the surface of their lives never seeking deeper enlightenment or trying to connect with what moves them to act. We had a dear friend, L, from Red Lodge. She used to move 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 or to prove us wrong.

L used to bounce through town, five foot nothing, a compact, solid woman with long blonde hair flouncing out, keeping time with her steps, always on a mission to somewhere—quickly. She whirl-winded through life and was killed in a car wreck, never getting a chance to slow down and 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 listening with the intention of 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.

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Lessons Learned Growing Up

It would be difficult to recall a single time when my parents weren’t totally present when we conversed. Dad was great at existing in the moment with you. He helped me learn the lesson of being there when conversing with another. Mom was attentive because as shy as she could be, she wanted to know, she wanted to learn about what was being said.

If you are good at surface dialogue, I’m envious since I lack this ability. My desire is to know you now—what motivates you, what makes you happy, what about life excites you? Business or parties, it’s agonizing to get asked for the three hundredth time: “Do you have kids?” As if that’s the only thing of interest I could have achieved in life.

Only people with kids fail to understand how invasive that question can be—it can take us entirely too far beneath the surface as an initial conversation. Like Anne, we need a balance of conversation to know and yet not be inquisitors. When I was young, the children question often came as an attack. My honest response was that I didn’t want to have kids and I’d invariably hear, you’ll change your mind. Now that I’m heading toward sixty, instead there is always dead silence when I say, no, I do not have kids. What are they going to ask next: Oh, did you choose not to? Don’t you like kids? Were you unable?

Could we have an in-depth discussion about the decision to have/not have children? Perhaps, but it seems a place most people don’t want to go, that there’s something contagious about my choice decades ago to not be a parent.

There are topics less divisive than that one. Try asking me where the most special place is that I have traveled and why it holds a place in my heart.

When we meet, I’m not the person who can dive in with easy and casual chat. People who know me know I don’t have my mom’s shyness, that at a party you won’t find me wall-flowering alone in a corner, that I’m way more gregarious than many people.

But that’s people who know me.

When attending networking events, are you like me and have to mentally prepare to go? I don’t dread them anymore, but the work involved in those surface conversations zaps my energy. At least before I arrive. Once there, I try to find the person who looks more uncomfortable than I feel. Being drawn to them, I take my discomfiture out of the mix, and get that person to talk about themselves—hopefully beyond the weather.

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.

College philosophy class gave me this phrase from Socrates, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Not a boxing fan, Muhammad Ali was still 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.”

Do you observe people shimmering across the facade of life?

When meeting those surface-living folks, do you help them dig inside and move the conversation beyond the blissful roaming through their lives without a care of where their spirit is going and find a place to meet them far below the superficial?