What are we going to talk about?
Small boys are not particularly interested in babies! Our 5-year-old grandson announced this week: ‘When my new cousin can talk, I will tell her about dinosaurs.’ Until then, he and his friends plan to give their attention to lizards and geckos and swimming and learning to somersault in the water! Our week-old granddaughter is interested in none of these! All she wants is milk and cuddles!
We have been talking about interesting conversations as we contemplate a reunion this weekend with some of the students we taught forty years ago. What are we interested in – and what are they interested in as we meet each other again? How are we going to communicate? Do we have any joint interests still – except reminiscing about life in the last century?
Of course, the basic headlines of people’s lives are important. We are both always interested in knowing where people live now, who people married, what work they have been doing and how many children they have. And, of course, we shall be delighted to show twenty-five pictures of our new granddaughter! We always enjoy some of the funny stories that inevitably come up at these events. But neither of us has a long attention span for reminiscences.
When we see people with whom we shared our lives many years ago, what we really want to hear and share are the stories behind the headlines. What we really want to ask them – and hope that they will ask us - are the good old journalistic questions: what matters to you these days? why have you made the choices you have made? what resources have you found in yourself and in others over the years? Have you found resources in the church and in God? If you have you turned elsewhere, where did you go? What gives your life colour and purpose? What is your life about these days?
We do recognise that these are not the questions of polite chat. We also know that, like our grandson, some people find it helpful to talk about their adult versions of dinosaurs and geckos - and why not? We haven't forgotten that there have been difficult times in our own lives over the years when it was too painful to exchange anything but pleasantries. Since politeness and consideration for others are both important to both of us, we do try not to ask questions all the time. Or, if we venture in that direction, at least to ask the questions very gently! But there are times when we have found that reflective reminiscence with old friends can be meaningful and memorable.
At a wedding some years ago, we were delighted to meet again a man Helen had been at school with, and his sister. Helen hadn’t seen either of them for many decades. In one of those inevitable wedding hiatuses when everyone was sitting around waiting for something or other, something happened. Helen said to them, ’So - we haven’t got that much time together, we might as well make it interesting – tell us about your relationship to God and the church since last we met’. An open, honest and enriching conversation followed for the rest of the evening with all sorts of stories, ideas and further questions on both sides. We have always been thankful for that evening.
We’re looking forward to this weekend with much gratitude for the people we know we are going to meet. We’re expecting plenty of laughter and hoping that we might have just one or two special exchanges.