Listening Between The Lines


Some days offer more opportunities for insight than you can deal with. Family gatherings sometimes evolve into story telling marathons where people occasionally try to outdo each other with the hilarity of their experiences. This isn’t usually a problem unless you happen to be a little insecure or worse yet, inexperienced. The ante for getting a word in edgewise is significant, and you stand to lose a great deal of status if your story falls flat.

But like many self-listening situations, your biggest problem is trying to find a place to jump in with your own contribution, because you end up missing some great stories others are telling. Is there any solution to this quandary? Can one really hold talkativeness against a relative one only sees every five years? I think not.

The best moments of these gatherings come when the pressure fragments the group into pieces. Someone comes up with a reason for an excursion or errand, and half the group leaves. Those who stay around no longer have to compete for getting their turn to speak. The tempo of conversation changes. People get more personal with their stories.

Why bring this up? I’ve spent more than 12 hours with immediate family and other relatives, and can’t remember anything I was able to contribute to the conversations. But it didn’t matter. I was able to request the elaboration of a few points I was curious about, and the results were frequently enlightening, but more often hilarious. I have funny relatives.

And I’ve decided that with this particular group of relatives, I don’t need to share my stories. I need to hear theirs. It was their loss we are here to celebrate. Their son, or brother, or father was the one we all remembered this morning, and again this afternoon. It was wonderful to be together and pick on each other, because that is what people in our family do. It is a form of affection that tells us we are strong enough to take a joke, and resilient enough to enjoy being the object of their jabs.

It isn’t good to be serious all the time. We need to forget about the pressures of our lives and enjoy those around us. Sometimes they are not with us as long as we would like. We never know when they will leave us. That is what has been so striking about these few days together. The son/brother/father/cousin we celebrated left us more than six years ago, but it was like he had been here last week. Our love was that strong, even this many years later.

Who do you care about? When did you last tell them the depth of your feelings for them? If it has been more than a week, pick up your phone and call them. They need to know you care about them before you lose the opportunity.

That was the only sad thing about our reunion these past few days. The cousin/father/brother/son was not here to laugh with us. He would have had a great time, and we would have had even more fun than we did. Remembering the kinds of things he would have added wasn’t quite the same as him actually being here, but it was still nice.

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