On the couch after dinner, I listened to discussion on the state of “all the things” and my mind drifted away to the person who once occupied the chair with arms. At this very moment he would have looked my way and we would have exchanged knowing glances. He would have smiled that from the heart, spread all over his face grin, and things would have been tolerable. To my great sadness, he wasn’t at the table this Christmas and he won’t be there to save me from uncomfortable conversations.
I don’t know what the rules are about complicated relationships or tricky conversations. Today I’m telling myself that the most important step in the process of connecting with others is to decide that you care, and show up. We shouldn’t wait to be invited. I think we have to choose to be present, as ourselves, in the worst possible moments. It’s in the hard conversations the choice to connect or not seems most difficult.
On the couch in Christmas’s past, I chose the person I wanted to relate with. I looked him in the eye so many times I knew what he was thinking in certain situations. It was easy. I took the time to ask him questions and learn where he was coming from on many different topics. I showed up for my uncle because that relationship mattered to me. It was comfortable and authentic and true. I chose not to show up for the difficult conversation, because I didn’t know how. I turned my body away. I got quiet. I told myself it was better to steer clear of complicated topics at family gatherings, but now I’m not so sure.
I was not showing up as my true self when I avoided conversations. Showing up means we have to be honest about who we are and what we expect without fear for how that honesty will be received. Rather than ignore a conversation, we could choose to present ourselves with eyes open and questions blazing. We can search for meaning when we don’t understand. We can be curious about where difficult words come from. We can be willing to see our people in their ugliness and truth. We can do all those things in a kind way – to ourselves and others. Only when we are present can we find common ground. Common ground is a place to build relationships, and that’s ultimately what we’re searching for.
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