It doesn’t seem to matter where I go, there is this language that swirls around me that I have never been able to learn. I am constantly just on the outside left flailing around like some awkward penguin. It is as foreign to me as German. For years I’ve tried really hard to learn this language. Okay, okay, sometimes I have tried really hard. But I continue to walk away realizing the reality that I still don’t understand it. The truth is, I don’t think I ever will. I have failed my whole life at this language.
It’s like a secret language that I have never been given access to. I dread it, and every time I head into a scenario where it is expected of me, I die a little inside. I awkwardly fidget and avoid eye contact and pray that I won’t be seen, so then maybe, just maybe, I won’t have to engage in the language that I do not know. The times that I have really given effort still leave my cheeks burning in embarrassment. One of my middle sons is at an elementary school where the parents must walk into the school and wait in the cafeteria for the students to be dismissed. Yes, this means there are many, many days of ducking small talk. Last year, a woman from my church, who I happen to think is a pretty amazing woman, although we are just acquaintances, sat next to me as we waited. Immediately I knew what had to happen. I looked at her, and I smiled in what surely was my signature awkward way, and I proceeded to talk about the weather. Now I have heard people dialogue for literal minutes about the fact that it is raining outside. I thought to myself surely this is safe. How badly could I mess up the weather? I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I am sure it was something as articulate as, this sure is some weather we are having. I tried to continue the conversation, but really what more can be said about the weather?! She politely smiled back at me, and agreed, and then to my horror, we sat side-by-side in utter, awkward silence. I am actually typically comfortable in silence. I can ride in a vehicle with someone and be completely at ease with no conversation, or a need to fill the air with words. However, I got the distinct impression that I was supposed to say something else, but I didn’t know the words to say! I rarely do.
Instead of talking about nonsense that doesn’t seem to really matter or add any value to life at all, I would rather not have these pointless, superficial conversations. Instead I wish I could ask where does it hurt? What is on your heart today? How can I listen to you in a way that will ease that burden you are carrying? I am highly suspicious that asking those probing questions, especially in a student pick-up gathering, would make people even more uncomfortable than my hopeless attempts at small talk do.
Being introspective as I am, I sometimes assume that people must think I am stuck up, as I duck and avoid my way through social situations to avoid talking about the weather. But really I am not. I actually do love people. I especially love listening to people, and making slow, beautiful lasting relationships. I have a desire to gain a better understanding of the people around me, and I do have a deep desire to connect. I think we all do. Small talk, however, has never given this to me.
So, if you meet me in the grocery store, on the sidewalk, or in the cafeteria at an elementary school, duck and avoid along with me, or go ahead and ask me what I believe the purpose of life is. Kidding. Sort of.
The truth is I know deep down that small talk is a necessary evil, and that I do have to participate, as awkward as it may be, in order to reach that connection that I really long for. But I don’t think it will ever be a language that I become fluent in.
Is small talk painful for you, or do you excel in this art?
Adding coffee to small talk, does make it slightly more bearable!