I was sitting in the meeting room with my writing instructor, Brian, for my allotted half hour consultation where I could discuss my writing. Other writers on this retreat had brought chapters of their books for his perusal. Me? I brought my self-doubt. I didn’t even know what I intended to work on during this time sequestered with my pen and pad, nestled on the shores of Little Joe Lake. If there had been a psychiatrist’s couch in the room, I would have been on it, pouring out my anxiety over not knowing what kind of writer I was supposed to be. I leaned towards devotional type writings, I explained to Brian, but I didn’t want to pigeon-hole myself. Should I be writing a novel? Could I write a novel? What about short stories, and what do I do with my dark sense of humor? How do I write funny–sometimes even irreverently funny while still holding true to my faith? Could I be funny and faithful at the same time? Then came the advice that would shape my weekend, and perhaps my writing going forward.
Brian told me to go a little schizophrenic. Basically, be true to my own voice, even if that voice occasionally swore or didn’t sound very ‘Christian’. Just write. Something. Anything. But. Be. Who. You. Are.
So, I did. Between wandering about snapping pictures of the arrival of fall in all its splendor, drinking steaming hot mugs of coffee on the verandah, and jumping in the frigid waters of Little Joe, I wrote from my God-given voice. It wasn’t always eloquent, not always nice, but it was real. You’re not going to read what I wrote at the retreat just now; I’m not ready to share. But what follows, is something that was birthed from the freedom and the permission to Just. Be. Me.
Dan and I had only known one another for a matter of hours, and already we’d had our first fight.
“You sir, are an ass-hat!” I fired off with thumbs ablaze.
Thinking better of it, I delayed hitting Send. Instead, I backspaced and re-thought my response to his ignorance. I had to carefully select my words, after all, he had just asked if I ever got angry and I had responded ‘More with situations than people.’ This was clearly not the case in the moment. In this text message round of “rapid fire,” he had asked what I was passionate about. I described my role as a volunteer in a female ministry team that went into strip clubs to offer love and support to the women who were caught up in the sex industry.
‘Offer love in a strip club? LOL!” was his response.
Not smart, Dan. Not smart at all.
“It sounds like you think I’m joking, or that I, in fact, am a joke.” I finally replied, glad that he couldn’t see me seething at his thoughtless response.
Less than two hours earlier, I had learned that he had become a father and a widower in nearly the same instant. Now, as a single father of a soon-to-be seven-year old daughter, I couldn’t imagine him laughing about anyone’s little girl being caught up in human trafficking. So I educated him as graciously as I could.
“These girls are somebody’s daughters. Somebody’s sisters,” I launched in. “Not all of them, if any, woke up one day and decided that selling their bodies to equally broken men was their life-long dream. In fact, most of them had no loving father figure to show them their worth as a woman.”
“Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t understand the way you were explaining it at first.”
Sorry, reader. I’m getting ahead of myself. I wasn’t the one who started this conversation in the first place. Let me take you back to a few days earlier.
Returning from my weekend writer’s retreat, where blissfully, there had been no Wi-Fi nor cell phone reception, my phone began to go off like a slot machine as I got close to the main road. I had ignored the incessant notifications until I had put Algonquin Park two hours behind me and had pulled into a rest stop off the 400 to stretch and grab a coffee. Leaning against my rental, I scrolled through the phone. The noisiest part of my weekend had been the crows calling to one another as the morning mist rose off the lake, so now, the noise of social media was an unwelcome interloper. But then, I came across a simple message: Hello, dear.
‘Dear?’ I thought. Who was this, referring to me with such charm? I checked the profile from where it originated, and thought, ‘What the heck,’ and sent a ‘Hello, yourself,’ with a little winky-face. Laughing at my own boldness, I hopped back in the truck and headed home.
It was a full day later when the next message came in. It was a warm evening and I was curled up on the couch with a book. I probably should have been working at writing one instead of delaying the stand-off between me and my pen, indulging myself in someone else’s prose.
“Hello, dear. How was your day?” It was the return of the Instagram Charmer. I was curious. Having not been wooed by a man in quite a while, this seemed much more entertaining than David Maine’s “The Book of Samson.”
Okay, I’ll bite, I decided.
That’s where the four-hour messaging marathon began. It seemed strange to be having such a lengthy conversation with someone I didn’t even know–it was about an hour in before we realized that we didn’t even know one another’s name. This was quickly remedied with not-so formal introductions, and the conversation continued.
I was not looking for love. It’s not that I had stopped hoping, but I had decided to focus on myself, what I liked to do, what made my heart sing. I had signed up for another writing course, an improv course, and agreed on a whim, to join my friend as she travelled home to Germany to see her family later in the fall. Someone had once told me, ‘You become interesting to others when you do something interesting for yourself.’ I had decided to test that theory. For now, talking to Dan did seem interesting, and being for the most part, satisfied that he was not preying on unsuspecting lonely women to bail him out of a Nigerian jail, I just went with it. Much like an interview with someone you know you’ve no intention of hiring. Eek. There’s that word irreverent again.
So we navigated the waters of the usual getting- to- know-you questions. You know, favorite past times, least favorite characteristics in a person, where you see yourself in 5 years…
Aside from the shot at my work in human trafficking, it made for an evening that rivalled binge-watching just about anything on Netflix. Dan had commented that he really enjoyed his down-time from his work as an architect/builder, preferring a barefoot walk in the grass, over a glitzy night on the town in his home city of Los Angeles, California.
To keep the cheesy dialogue flowing, I responded with something along the lines of taking the time to smell the roses, probably one of the most notable colloquialisms of all time. What came next was priceless.
“It takes time for you to smell roses? You think it’s important to smell roses?”
Holy crap on a cracker…
Biting my lip to keep from laughing, (not that he could see my expression anyway) I offered, “I believe it’s a metaphor for taking the time to notice the beauty around you.”
I shouldn’t say it, but I was getting a visual of a Californ-I-A surfer dude saying, “Wow. That’s really deep, man.”
I really don’t mean to make fun of this stranger. As the dialogue continued, he actually did share some profound thoughts, and I, the eternal encourager, was able to offer some womanly advice in regards to his dilemma of attempting to be both a mother and father to a little girl who, along with her Daddy, seemed to desperately be seeking a mama. I asked for his daughter’s name. I said I’d pray for both him and his daughter. And I will.
So, where is the inspirational bit in all of this? I’m not sure, and I’m actually okay with that. But I will say this: In a matter of a few short hours, a stranger and I spoke of loss, fear, grief, joy and we even expressed anger and frustration toward one another. To me, this just speaks of humanity’s need to connect, to look one another eye to eye, and give ourselves permission to be vulnerable. Maybe we’ve allowed social media, cell phones, and text messaging to replace the face-to-face encounters we so desperately need to feel our own pulses again. If I were to pair this synopsis with scripture as I often do, here’s one from King Solomon, from Ecclesiastes 1:2
“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”
Yes and amen? Meh.