Posted by: nieophyte | December 10, 2007

Talk to me

Lately, I have been finding myself at a loss for words. A friend will tell me a touching story, expecting some sort of reaction at the end, and I will not know how to respond. My mother will demand an explanation and all I can do is shrug. A coworker cries over lasagna while recounting her horrible thanksgiving. She looks to me for words of comfort and all I can do is push marinara sauce about on my plate, nodding, because that is all I can do.

At first, I told myself I was just a little off. The words will return, I thought. You’re just tired. That was a few months ago, and now I am feeling desperate to get the words back, to remember what it feels like to say the right thing and hear the right thing in conversation and feel a genuine connection with another person. I am hungry for that. I am wilting without it.

Isn’t that remarkable? The human need to connect, to feel understood, to understand another. To understand an other.

Austrian-Israeli-Jewish philosopher, Martin Buber constructs his entire thesis on the meaning of life around what he calls the I-Thou (or Ich-Du) relationship. In an I-Thou relationship, two dual entities experience one another in genuine dialogue, and through this experience, both entities become fully realized.

While I can’t completely agree with all of Buber’s existentialism, I find the notion of existence being actualized in relation to another person to be very beautiful and true. After all, isn’t it through the action of God pro nobis that we as humans move from simply existing as the walking dead, to realizing ourselves as those who have chosen life abundant? Isn’t it through connection with other believers that we are no longer islands unto ourselves, but members of a holy catholic Church? Isn’t it through connecting relationally with those who have yet to know God the most genuine way to bring more people into the fold?

I’m not sure why I’ve been choking on my words these days. It might have something to do with the fact that I mostly socialize  with people half my age. But when the words return, I hope you, dear reader, will be there with me, so we can talk and talk and talk and talk …

’til next time!

-nieophyte.

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Responses

  1. Another “wow” from me. Five stars for content, two thumbs up for vulnerability. A+ for style, typical of the nieophyte.

    I’ve found that I have a quota of the number of words I communicate each day. There have been days that go by when I just wake up, go to work, sit there all day and review documents or something, come back at 11 pm, and I haven’t spoken to a single person other than my girlfriend for 10 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes at night. And poor her, she gets the full-on brunt of my pent-up words.

    If I don’t blog or write an e-mail or talk on the phone or something, I find I explode with words and ideas. I really do crave that relational experience, more than food.

    More simply, I find that I’m the kind of person that doesn’t think a whole lot about things until I’m asked to explain them to others. I am always thinking aloud, even when people think I’m intentional about conversation. This has also gotten me in trouble. But I can’t help it; I truly do NOT exist, as you say, unless I am relating to others.

    So, what I’m trying to say is, if you need some words, you can have some of mine. I’ve got plenty. =)

  2. In most situations I have found saying “I’m so sorry that happened or I’m sorry” is enough.

    Maybe you are expecting too much of yourself. If you pressure yourself to be profound, I have found that nothing profound ever comes, neither do the “right words” when we rely solely on ourselves for them.

    If you read “Radical Hospitality” by Daniel O. S. B. Homan (Author), Lonni Collins Pratt (Author) they also point out that real hospitality is about connecting with another person whether it is for two seconds or two hours. It is what humans often lack and often desire.

    Personally, I have also found that if I don’t listen well, then I can’t respond well.

  3. It’s tricky, isn’t it: on one hand, you don’t want to say something you don’t genuinely mean. So you decide to take a step back and exercise discernment, and wait until it feels more “natural”… And then before you know it, it’s too late – you’re out of practice and it seems like it’ll never be natural again.

    Then again, times like these make you cherish when you do find that one you can be completely expressive with, even in the absence of words, no?

  4. Hey nieo,

    your little bit about Buber reminded me of Shall we Dance (yes, i have a bit of sap in me), where… well, you can see:

    Anyways, to over to some of your other content… I think it’s unrealistic and possibly unhealthy for you to put that burden and expectation on yourself. you are not going to have the words to say for every person in every circumstance so that they’ll feel better. I think it’s great that you’ve been able to help specific people at specific times, but… I don’t know if we can really be the ‘go-to’ person every single time someone’s having a crappy day. (if you really do, maybe you should be a counselor or end up simply miserable???).

    But yeah, perhaps simply pouring marinara sauce isn’t the best response. 🙂

  5. while i’m focusing so much on ‘the right thing’ to say, i think i go farther away from what that person is actually feeling, that in the end, i realize i actually dont understand- and ppl want to be understood. a shrug or even a wordy response just doesnt cut it.

    i agree with hogan in that maybe we need to listen better because then our response will be fueled more by empathy than by this pressure to be the encourager or someone’s rock or whatever other role we feel like we should be. hopefully, genuine empathy will reveal itself, even in just saying “i understand.” for me, i think i have the problem of saying the wrong things! ohh the regret. but! it’s pretty awesome the friends i still have despite these awkward times when i completely miss the point.

  6. I’m one of those people who don’t mind not talking to people as long as they’re in the same place with me and they have a positive affinity towards me. I find it just as powerful.

    But I understand when you can’t think of the right words to say during another person’s struggle. When is just listening not enough?

    When you want to speak, I’m ready to listen, and respond!

  7. I think of Job and those goofball friends of his. All Job really needed was someone to simply BE with him in his pain and mourning – to simply listen and sit shiv’ah.

    I tripped upon this interesting blog page: Rabbi Brian’s Religion-Outside-the-Box (http://www.rotb.org). Here is an interesting story on listening vs. talking:
    ——-
    I was talking with my best friend Larry a few days ago on our drive home from the stained glass class we religiously attend.

    Earlier that evening, a man had sauntered up to our table under the pretense of asking Larry a question about the Bible. But instead of ever asking a question, the man blathered his homespun, uneducated opinions about the origins of certain Biblical ordinances.

    “Larry,” I asked, “Why didn’t you interrupt that man and set the record straight?”

    My dear friend answered, “I already know what I would have said—I wouldn’t have learned anything from that. That man obviously wanted to talk, so I listened.”

    Oh, how I love Larry.
    ——-
    Sometimes we do underestimate the value of simply listening. We were given one mouth, but two ears…

  8. interaction is pretty huge, and that’s coming from someone who has little to no human interaction for most of every waking moment of every day (lol… and sleeping moment). but u know, i think there are some seasons in life when we’re always around ppl and some seasons when we’re alone.

    that we suck at interacting from time to time, and that it sucks when we suck at it, just goes to show how awesome and important human connections are. its like, we missed out on something big, and it speaks to how precious it is when there’s someone u can connect with, so you’ll know what words to say, or when not to talk, or they’ll know what to say to you, etc etc. a friend, in other words. and in other words, friends are few and far between.

  9. first, i’d like to clarify that i’m not saying I feel the need to say the right thing every time. I’m just not saying ANYthing. it’s very strange– I’m usually very chatty.

    mostly though, I just want to connect with people, that kind of interaction that happens with kindred spirits, if I could borrow an antiquated phrase. so maybe it’s not really about the words themselves. it’s about the feeling … the fireworks … maybe i just need to start dating again?

  10. well, i’m studying for a psychology exam right now and this is what my psych book says:

    “besides being fun, dating promotes sensitivity, empathy, and identity development as one relates to someone whose needs differ from his or her own.”

  11. someone want to help promote sensitivity, empathy, and identity development in my life?

    😛

  12. its that teenage feeling

  13. when it comes to dating: where is the grass browner?

    your personality is probably diff than mine, but when i get like that, i immerse myself in completely new environments with totally new people. i’m sort of a romantic that way, but what i’m saying is…

    shake things up a lil. spice up yo life. go meet some new and weird people.

    or, eHarmony that jawn

  14. I apologize for the Christian-ness of this response – actually, I don’t.

    Ms. Nieo, I know that you already know all the churchy answers about fellowship and how we all need community, etc., and the difference between koinonia fellowship and just hanging out. But I wonder if perhaps that is the remedy for the desire for kindred spirits. Really.

    Again, I realize that this isn’t some divine revelation that you don’t already know. But I think that the cognitive understanding of the term and experiential fellowship are two different things. Remember those times back in the day when we spent those Saturday nights preparing for Sunday, praying with each other – a 40 something white guy, a pastor’s wife, a junior high kid, you and me. Sometimes we didn’t need to say anything to each other directly, but were able to just sit in silent prayer or just silence. It was deep. It was good. I think that’s what we need. Otherwise, we just become the growing statistic of lonely 20-something Americans.

    Hope this wasn’t too preachy. I would never presume to do that to you. You’re a much smarter and holier person than I am.

    On another note, did you like how I kept missing my mouth with that second beer on Monday night? I was pretty embarrassed.

  15. i never feel more alive than when i am engaging with others around me, as much as my natural instinct is to shrink from social encounters.

    as far as being at a loss for words – i know how you feel.

    i love some of the notes that have been about listening here. don’t underestimate the calming effect you may have on someone just by offering an attentive ear. perhaps they look to you, not for words, but to know that you hear.

  16. my dearest neio,
    you know oh so well how highly i value words. in fact, in some cases, valuing them too much has afforded me much frustration and self-contempt.

    i recently had a conversation with someone that left me speechless at precisely the moment when–i thought–a Christian should not be speechless. this person hurled all faith’s tough questions at me in a matter of minutes. i couldn’t duck fast enough before the next one came out. i was silently praying, “oh dear God, make me SAY something. and not just something but the RIGHT thing.” instead of responding with textbook answers that i do know but just somehow always manage to forget at precisely the right moment, lamely, i politely nodded and said, “yes, i understand.” “i know.” that’s it. a nod. and a lame one at that, i assure you.

    i beat myself up for days after. why didn’t i say that? was that the best i could do? now, this person most certainly thinks i’m some sort of ignorant freak! i should have said this. i should have said that. i let an opportunity to share go by. these thoughts tormented me until you, neio, spoke words to me. after listening to me rehash this conversation, you told me that this person perhaps did not want answers… did not need words. instead, this person may just have needed some place for his words to land, because he had many.

    there’s only so much room for words in any given conversation, and when one person needs all the words, the other person must simply nod. and you reminded me that not only is that OK, sometimes it’s the only way to genuinely connect.

    thanks for talking to me.


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