Tag Archives: Connections

In the Silence

Just awkward— the silence.  I searched for more words, looked at the ceiling and floor.

The assignment: find a partner whom you do not know well, from among fellow students in Ingrid Davis’ Leadership Coaching course.  Ask one good question.  Then listen— without making any statement, or asking a follow up question— for five minutes.

It was my turn to answer, so I filled the first one or two minutes with phrases.  Then the silence started.

A few years have passed since I took that class, but I think of those minutes, so silent yet so disquieting, often.  Most recently, they came to mind while I was teaching Public Speaking at the university. My students had studied techniques for interviewing and reading feedback.  They were assigned, as homework, the task of composing and asking excellent questions.  They came back excited to share what they had come up with:

  • “What do you want to be doing ten years from now?”
  • “Where is a place you would like to travel?”
  • “What job have you most enjoyed, and why?”

Goals, dreams, experiences— great things to ask about, I said.  They were smiling and confident.  What did you learn about people?

They kept their grins but avoided my eyes.  I discovered that out of 30+ students, two had asked their questions out loud; the rest had kept them inside.

Why?

Their gazes met mine again.  Hands shot skyward.  “I didn’t want to offend anyone.”  “I am afraid they will think badly of me.” “What if they can’t think of an answer?” They were held back, by the possibility of not being able to connect, from even attempting a connection.

Last week, I traveled to a small town in Germany to assist with a conference.  Contrasting the noise level heard from my Middle Eastern basement— mosques calling people to prayer five times a day, gun shots fired for every wedding or graduation celebration, and a less dramatic but no less salient rooster in my backyard— the quiet of my second-story hotel room was as soft as their down blankets.

The silence pried my fingers loose from the things I had gripped when we first arrived.  The busyness of preparations for the Young Leaders program.  The goodbyes of loved friends moving back to the United States.  The pressure I had been feeling with anticipation of new roles.

I try to escape silence, most of the time.  Whether through filling time with activity, or filling spaces with my words, I avoid quietness because it is unproductive and inefficient.  Or, that’s what I tell myself.

In truth, I might have the same fears as my students have when they resist asking deeper questions.  Staying on familiar, comfortable ground makes me feel confident and pulled together.  Silence is an undoing.  Venturing questions of depth, waiting for answers, is risky behavior— human to human, human to God.  Will He speak?  Will there be a connection?  Or will it just be space, empty?

In the coaching class, after a long pause, I found more words— deeper ones.  The silence had given me space to take the question to a more profound place than my partner could have done with a follow-up question or a reply, so when the five minutes was up, I was still finishing my answer. IMG_4877

Before leaving the area, after the conference had ended, friends and I took a cable car to a mountaintop.  Surrounded by a view that is beyond the words I know for splendor or scope, breathing in the cold, clean air, I could tell my iPhone pictures would be useful only for triggering memories.  The sense of climbing and climbing, each panorama surprising in loveliness and scale.  The broad space that was empty of construction, but overflowing with beauty.

Will I be able to carry that memory of silence and grandeur back with me to a desert in the Middle East?

I’ll have to try.  Because the potential for the connection ushered in by stillness is greater, in my mind, than the risk of rejection or a discomfortable silence.  Maybe, as my partner in class did, I’ll keep listening even through silence, and hear deeper things than I expected.

And maybe, just maybe, the deepest connections will take place in the silence.

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This blog is a little shorter than some.  Why not use the space for some silence?  Let me know how it works…

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Connections

I’m starting to see the connections.  For example, the Arabic word meaning to remain with is connected to the word for to sit down.  I get that.  A word that starts as discussion can easily become the word for argument.  Makes sense.

And one of the words for working out also means… math?

That one, I asked my teacher to clarify.  She grinned at my puzzled expression. “Of course: exercise for your body… or exercise for your mind!”

My mind is getting a lot more exercise than my body this summer, as community center activities take a hiatus and I sit with language teachers, studying word connections and sipping sweet coffee.   So I decided to borrow a work-out DVD from one of my housemates.  I’ve seen fit college athletes nurse aching limbs after one of these workouts: 30 Day Shred.

Jillian Michaels, the coach, reminds me daily: “You want change.  To get that, you’ve got to endure stress…. That’s how change happens.” (Did I mention that in Arabic, the word to beat/to hit someone is connected to the word to coach?)

Rob Reimer is a professor and pastor, and a person experienced in endurance of tough things.  His teaching “hits me”/coaches me even from across an ocean.  The truth is that amidst the summer stillness, I am restless for resolution– resolution of conflict in this region, of sadness of loved friends, and of longings in my own soul.  Reimer reminds me, “…this time between the promise and the delivery of the promise is the most critical time in the life of the people of God.  It is the “in between time.'” (Pathways to the King).

I wasn’t sure I had a story this week.  I am in between spring and fall semesters at the university, between Ramadan and the re-opening of the center,  between being green and being seasoned, between hearing the promises and being able to grasp them with my hands.  And tension resides.  My instinct with this tension is the same as my instinct with Jillian Michaels’ Shred video: I want a different way, I want to get out of it.  But stress builds change often, or at least creates the opportunity for it.  And I’m beginning to see the connection.

Here in the in-between, I spend my days studying Arabic and “shredding,” throwing away last semester’s worksheets to make way for new students, organizing my apartment to prepare for leaving it this fall to live a month with a local family… While I can see the end coming quickly to this in-between schedule, I don’t know when the resolutions promised will come.

Reimer says that, in the in-betweens, people face three major challenges:

  • trying to make things happen via our own resources
  • listening to competing voices (counter to what He says)
  • quitting

So instead I am waiting with arms stretched wide, with one side reaching toward the promises I’ve been given in the past, and the other stretching into hope for the days that remain to be seen; and with whole self here, present.  Sometimes there is pain in the stress.  But Rob and Jillian agree…

This stretch brings about change.  And it’s there that I get ready for new opportunities, which I saw take place even yesterday… although that is a second story.  For now, I’ll just say, holding arms wide open leaves me ready, giving or receiving, for an embrace.

 

 

 

 

Mugs and a new place

unnamedEvery one of them has its story.  A personalized, purple-y mug crafted by a co-worker.  A solid blue with the logo of some engineering firm, passed on by a friend who knew I’d like it because it was “just the right shape.”  Today I sip one brought years ago from a friend in Germany, a mug marked with the words Onhe Kaffee ist alles doof — without coffee, everything is dumb.

Company in my apartment receive an invitation to drink a warm mug.  If I told the stories of each one, it would take more than one visit, so I mostly keep them to myself.  My guests sit and sip, while I drink in recollections of old friends and other places.  Connection between the past and present takes place as new memories are made over old mugs.

Earlier in the year, a few friends who know me well gave me a gift to take with me to the Middle East: a teapot and two mugs.  They said they felt the connections I had shared with them and others over hot drinks.  They wanted to send me with part of themselves, and also bless the connections and conversations yet to come.

As I pack this week, deciding what to keep and what to leave behind is nowhere near as difficult as wondering what parts of my life I can take with me, and what I will need to let go.  But the unseen loved ones, as well as the untold stories, carry influence.  Like the mugs that hold memories from old days, are savored in the present, and anticipate new use– I carry influence from each story, each place, and each connection, with me both now and into my new life.

Everyone who has every shared a warm mug of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate with me: You have influenced me.  You have been woven into the fabric of a story yet unfinished.  I will be taking you on this journey, remembering as I drink hot cups of Middle Eastern coffees and teas with new acquaintances.  You are deeply appreciated.  Your part has not finished yet.  A second story is happening.