Here I am! (Don’t look at me.)
That’s basically how I’ve been living my life to now. When I show up to an event, I’m very self-focused.
I thought it was a good thing. (???)
I called it “assessing the situation before acting” or maybe “being cautious” or “gathering information because that’s wise.”
Yeah, whatever. I was totally being guarded.
I chose not to engage authentically until I was comfortable. Given my aversion to small talk, this frequently meant choosing not to engage at all.
For me? It was dishonesty. And it was soul-killing.
Last week, I got an amazing gift: I was able to travel, just me and baby Lilly, to the hope*writers workshop in Charlotte, North Carolina. And that would’ve been awesome even if I’d just flown to Charlotte, attended the workshop, and flown home. But that’s definitely not what happened.
This trip was largely about connection. On a long layover in Seattle, I connected with a friend I hadn’t seen in 15 years. I flew to New York and drove down with my dad’s baby sister. On the way, we met up with a dear friend in Pennsylvania for several hours. A bestie met me in Charlotte to watch Lilly during the workshop. At the event, I met a bunch of internet friends for the first time. (Years ago, I was terrified of meeting people I only knew online. It’s obviously the surest way to get murdered. I would like to point out to my younger, more anxious self that I was not, in fact, murdered by any friends this week, internet or otherwise.) After the workshop, the bestie and I drove a few hours to her church where I met some of her people whom I had heard about but never interacted with. In the afternoon, there was a pot luck (“covered dish” in NC parlance) specifically so I could hang out with dozens of Alycia’s people.
In my standard, guarded “here I am, please don’t look at me” mindset, this would be a little exciting but a lot intimidating. The exciting parts would be the aunt, the friend in Pennsylvania, and the bestie.
Everything else would pretty much be terrifying.
15 years is a scary long time to wait to reconnect. What if we don’t have anything in common? What if, in the intervening mom years, I’ve become totally boring and flat and she hates actually hanging out? (I mean, I feel that way sometimes about myself.)
Meeting a bunch of internet friends IRL? Uh, no. Aside from the likelihood of MURDER, I have only ever interacted with these folks online. We’ve already established that I’m way cooler, smarter, and better with words there. So what if we meet face-to-face and they see how ridiculously awkward I am and don’t like me?
A church service followed by a party full of people I have never actually spoken to at all? Whoa. Slow down. Do I look like an extrovert to you? Didn’t think so. That sounds exhausting at best. I’ll probably be awkward. They won’t like me, but the party’s kind of for me, so they’ll feel obligated to talk to me, and the whole thing will be awful.
Does this trip sound like fun anymore? No.
So I chose something else.
“There you are!”
I decided to show up in each of these situations as wholly me, before I felt comfortable, just the same as I am with dear friends. I wanted to be curious and discover each person and relationship as best I could in the time I had. I chose to shrug off awkwardness, rather than avoiding it. I decided, before I left Fairbanks, that my posture toward each of the people I met would be a happy “there you are!”
It was a weird experiment.
Here’s what happened:
Somewhat predictably, I had deep, meaningful, heart-level talks with Linda, Amy, and Alycia (the friends I’ve known and interacted with regularly for years and years.)
I spent several hours reconnecting with Kirsten, my friend from a decade and a half ago. We marveled at how different our lives are now than they were when we worked at camp together. I got to hang out with a couple of her children. We hugged and enjoyed each other’s company and talked about real things and I will certainly see her again, and much sooner this time.
I connected with some writer friends who truly get me. It didn’t feel at all like meeting new people. It was much more like hanging out with old friends. It took a while to find them initially (when you know people by their facebook profile pictures and then try to find them by the backs of their heads in a full room, it takes some work) but I enjoyed them immensely. It turns out I have excellent taste in online friends and they’re all delightful. And not into murdering. At all.
I attended a new church. I took communion with them. I did it wrong. In our church, we pass plates of crackers and teeny cups of grape juice. In this church, I stood in line. One person handed me a chunk of bread, which I ate. Nom nom nom. Another held up the wine, which I took and swigged. Only when I had bits of soggy bread hit my lips did I realize that they definitely don’t do it this way in this church. Smooth move, Robin. Had I been paying more attention, I’d have dipped the bread in the cup like everyone else. I was almost mortified. But the attitude of the body there seemed to be, “you are family.” So I chose to laugh, figuring that anyone who saw was probably giggling at me, but not at my expense. It was fine.
Most surprisingly to me, I met a house full of people whose stories I knew from my friend but with whom I’d never spoken. I’d briefly interacted with about three of them, but about thirty of them were completely new to me. It felt a lot like coming home. I didn’t have to make small talk- there was no time for that. Instead, we interacted, all of us, as our whole selves. It was beautiful. (A lot of credit for this goes to the amazing church Alycia is a part of- authenticity is woven into the fiber of their community, or this may not have worked as well.)
This week was truly epic and entirely the grace of a God who loves me and who spoke to my heart before I left:
There you are.
So for the remainder of the month (likely longer), this will be my minigoal. I will focus on others while being myself (rather than focusing on myself while pretending to be someone else and ignoring others altogether.) (How do I have any friends at all??? Thanks, you guys, for waiting through the period where I’m trying to become comfy enough to show up.) When there’s a choice between “guarded” and “potentially awkward,” the answer is awkward. It’s fine. As much as possible, my posture towards people I meet will be, “there you are!”
Is it just me? Do y’all show up to people around you with your whole heart and a “there you are”? If not, would you give it a try? Maybe tell me how it goes? I was amazed at the difference that small internal choice made.