My husband and I were invited to a dinner at a large church in Seattle… it was sort of charity dinner or some such thing. I don’t remember. So, anyway, we were directed to specific tables with assigned seating.
Later, when I would tell my co-workers about that evening, I recall commenting that I didn’t know why in the world we were seated at that particular table. There was a couple, seated across the table from Wes and me, who seemed like they were straight out of some parenting/outdoorsman/selectric typewriter magazine or something. Everyone thing was going along fine, very cordial and pleasant. Well, that was until that guy started talking. And talking.
He continued talking through the whole meal, dessert and coffee. He talked about his work, his hobbies, his children, his van, his vacations and his children. But he didn’t talk about his children in a manner that was particularly complimentary or even to brag. It was as though his comments all centered around what he thought about having children, about being a parent taking children on vacation, taking them to school, or getting them a bike or some such thing. I, I, I, do this… I did that…
As we all sat there listening and eating dinner, every now and then someone would make a comment or ask a question regarding something this man had shared. I remember cringing at one point — hopefully not visibly — that that was going to trigger another story or diatribe about his sometimes very inconvenienced life. Uh-oh, yep… there he goes.
As the evening went on, he talked about the van. The Vanagon van. The Volkswagen Vanagon van. You know we picked it up last year… Yada, yada, yada. It’s so great for trips, gets such great gas mileage, Consumer Reports, very economical, even the wife [bleck: the. wife.] can drive it, it’s great for camping… you know, the last time we went camping, I had to…
I suppressed my comments. I even suppressed laughter, because, by this time, the whole table of eight — well, seven of us, were sort of glazing over. You know that gentle tilting of the head, with an occasional squint and nod? Yep, that was us. And, that’s what that evening was all about.
We returned home later that evening — with our two children. In our not a Vanagon. And I recall I was sooooo thankful for the husband the Lord gave me.
Well, I finished sharing with my co-workers the next morning about the dinner the previous evening. And I recall saying, I do not know why in the world we were seated at that table… it was a group of people with whom we had absolutely nothing in common.
In time I would look back on that evening and also back to my comment that we were seated with a group of people with whom we had nothing in common. Not only would I grow up a lot. But as the Lord would have it, I would bear more children — and drive a van. ~smile~
Eventually, somewhere along the way, the Lord would bring that event to mind and it would become of much greater value to me — it would become very instructive as I would teach in women’s groups and retreats, etc. You see, I began to realize that it wasn’t true that we had nothing in common with the others. What really was true was the fact that none of the others (except maybe the man’s wife) had shared in that evening. So, in reality, that guy didn’t have anything in common with us… the six spectators. But it was because he didn’t attempt to connect with the others and left no room for others to connect.
And so, here’s some of the instruction I received from that guy (though my mother had already told me these things): Don’t tell everyone everything you know. Not everyone wants to hear everything you know. Listen to people, you don’t always need to be the one doing the talking. Everyone has something to say.
So, I thank my mother for giving me that advice through the years and I thank that guy for the practical and vivid application. That experience instructed me, from that point on, to be determined that, so long as it depended on me, such an evening not be repeated, to attempt to include everyone in conversations when seated at a table like that, to ask questions and to look for ways to draw out the more quiet ones — everyone has something to say — something worth hearing.
Though we never saw him again, I’m thankful to be still gleaning from the lessons I learned that night from that guy. I wish I could say I don’t fall into the trap of talking too much or too long… but I’m working on it. I’m just always thinking and thinking of things to say and to write. Maybe it’s good there’s not enough time for either one.