Friday, December 24, 2010

The Perfect Gift

He plopped down on to the couch, closed his eyes and let it soak him in. The sounds of the party emanated from every direction. He relaxed his neck and shoulders, his head lilting backward until the warm softness of couch established equilibrium.

His eyes closed, he wandered the room drifting from conversation to conversation. His Wall-Streeter cousins were congregated around the bar to his left, taking turns lamenting the newly proposed federal tax increases. His eyes still closed, he smiled, thinking, "Poor guys might miss a yacht payment."

He continued around the room, pausing to listen to his mom and aunts debating the "appropriate" way to make toll house cookies. His aunt Martha was vehemently insisting that pecans had no place in an "authentic" recipe. His mom, responding in a way that was only tangentially relevant, offered, "Well, if you use enough butter, you don't need nuts of any kind!"

After the sixth time his aunt Susie said, "I don't understand what the big deal is!", he moved on, following the sound of Budweiser and Chevy jingles to the back of the room. He stopped to listen to his dad and uncles pontificating on the plays that "should" have been run during the just-completed quarter of the Philadelphia/New England game.

Over the years, the guys had developed a manner of interaction that was almost choreographed, badly choreographed. It was like watching a basketball team moving down court using a technique that involved each team member stealing the ball from another. No brother actually ever finished making his point. In a moment taken to collect his thoughts or to simply breathe, another would swoop in, grab the conversational thread, and then dribble off with his own words of insight and wisdom. Since the only way finish a statement was to not stop talking, the brothers had each taken to speaking fast and loud, trying to say what he had to say before turning blue and passing out.

He smiled again, recalling his dad and brothers interacting exactly the same way when he was ten.

His revery was interrupted by the rush of frigid air and the sound of dogs frenetically scratching their ways to the front door. The cookie debaters and Wall Street lamenters all paused for a moment, craning to identify the source of the commotion. And then, like an ambulance siren racing out of the sudden sonic void, aunt Susie cried out, "Look, it's Carrie! Everyone, Carrie's here! She made it after all! And she brought a friend!"

He opened his eyes and lifted his head from the couch. The dogs yelped as the aunts rushed in mass to envelop the new arrivals. The Wall-Streeters picked up a new lament, a couple of the cousins checking out Carrie's new friend, and the uncles, well, the uncles hadn't really noticed anything going on in the first place.

As the aunts slowly withdrew, Carrie guided her friend around the room for introductions, first to the cousins, then to the uncles, and finally, to him. He sighed. Although he liked Carrie, he didn't feel up to making small talk or trying to be interested in inane conversation about the latest this or that.

Carrie plopped on the couch next to him, hugged him and then still gripping his arm said, "I'd like to introduce you to my good friend Melissa. She works with me downtown and decided to stay in here for Christmas rather than driving home to Boston. So I asked her come join us. Melissa, this is my cousin Jimmy who I've been telling you about."

He tried to stand and shake Melissa's hand, but Carrie leaned into him, pinning him down on the couch and then motioned for Melissa to sit down next to them. He looked at Carrie and then at Melissa, deciding, "OK, might as well be sociable."

However, before he could get a word out, Carrie bounced off the couch and bounded back to hang out with football crew. He turned to Melissa, who seemed not to notice or care about Carrie's departure. She looked him in the eye and asked, "So, what's on your mind tonight?"

He hesitated, looked furtively around the room, and then finally said, "Oh, you don't really want to know."

He turned back to her, her eyes still intently focused on him, her face calm and relaxed. Without pausing, she asked, "Why not?"

"Was she serious?", he thought, "She's not much on social cues." And then aloud, "I mean... umm... well... you know... I mean, there's nothing interesting going on in my mind."

"What is going on in your mind?", she replied, her voice flowing like a deep and powerful river, calm on the surface, but so much more beneath.

He felt almost compelled to respond, saying, "Well, I gotta say that I've been sitting here just trying to blend into this couch, to go unnoticed and to avoid any conversations that are simply a sequence of monologues or rehashes of the same stuff we talked about last year, and the year before, and the year before that."

"What would you like to talk about?"

"Oh, you wouldn't be interested. I'm sure."

"Try me."

He looked at her trying to figure out what her angle was, wondering if she were for real. He searched her face, looking for any sign of guile or disinterest. But all he saw was that river, flowing by deep and mighty.

"What the hell", he thought and then said, "Well, I've been thinking a lot lately about..."

She watched and listened to him, following him through various threads and tangents and asking him thought-inspiring questions. When his train of thought ran off the rails, she'd effortlessly help him to right it, recalling how they'd got there and rolling back each of the steps. The more he talked, the more comfortable he became. He moved beyond explaining what he had been thinking into unexplored territory. He found a sense of energy and enthusiasm for his ideas and thoughts he'd lost ages ago.

Throughout his explorations, she was right there with him and never distracted. She didn't lead or direct, but neither did she follow. She was just there, in perfect sync with him.

After a while (he couldn't tell whether it had been minutes or hours), he turned to her, satisfied, feeling something like a sense of accomplishment, but different. He said, "Melissa, thank you. I can't tell you how long it's been since I've talked to someone who really listened to me, who wasn't just waiting for her turn to speak or trying to steer me in a certain direction."

She nodded and said, "Jimmy, you're welcome. It was my pleasure."

And then he said, "You know Melissa, this may sound a little goofy, but what I've learned from you tonight is that the greatest gift you can give anyone is that of your complete focus and attention, going where they want to go, taking as much time as is necessary to explore and understand, and doing it all without judgment or agenda."

He paused, breath a deep sigh of satisfaction and with it, "Thank you!"

Happy, Christmas Eve!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for the gift of this reminder, Tef.


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