Saturday, September 22, 2012

Talk to Me

I think it was pink, although more of a coral than a bright pink. The woman in her early 20s wore the slinky blouse exposing her shoulder and a clear plastic bra strap, as seems to be the fashion. While she was seated with her back to me, I could see that she was slowly sipping a bright colored, deceptively fruity-looking drink. She shook her head slightly to one side, momentarily sending her shoulder-length blond hair dancing like the shining mane of a perfectly groomed Palomino. As if by instinct she raised her left hand to comb her fingers through her slightly tousled hair. Her ring caught the light and sparkled, showing off its recent placement. The story began to come together. 
Across from the pink blouse sat a young man with disheveled dark hair and a developing beer belly stretching his well-worn T-shirt with a misspelled four letter word emblazoned across it.  He did not look up as he intently stabbed his thumbs at the face of a recent model smart phone. It was not until the food arrived that he smiled, flashed the screen at the young woman sitting across from him, put down his electronic diversion, and dug into his meal. The shining gold band on his ring finger seemed out of place as his left hand clutched the steak knife. Silence continued between them as they ate. Her gaze shifted from her salad bowl to him and back, while he peered mostly at his phone on the table beside his plate. 
The five of us sitting in the booth behind the young couple spent our time mostly laughing at old stories, growing older and nothing in particular. We had just come from a college reunion event, meeting by chance and agreeing to go for brunch together. My wife and I were long time, good friends with the other couple who joined us, having spent time together often. The fifth member of our dining group had come back to his alma mater for the first time in 40 years, having accepted our invitation to stay with us and renew the old friendship we had shared in college.

It struck me as ironic when we begin to share some of the challenges that age and the intervening after college had brought us. Me with my Parkinson's, my single friend wearing the wounds of a recent divorce, and all of us facing demands, worries and stress that have come along when we feel least capable to deal with them. It was life we were sharing, as opposed to the young couple who sat eating nearby. The juxtaposition was almost enough to make me laugh out loud (or is that LOL) or cry. 
How could we be relating so easily when the young couple beside us were so lost in their own worlds? Was the enemy at their table the cellular phone? Or had they simply just awoken after the dream of the wedding, the parties and the honeymoon, to realize that real life brought pain to follow passion. Coping with reality takes work and real life is more difficult than playing a videogame. The newlyweds had some tough lessons to learn, that much was obvious. It saddened me to realize that the distinct potential of separation and divorce was likely creeping into the thinking, if not the vocabulary, of these young people. 
What makes a relationship last? The older I get the harder that question is to answer. I used to think it was simply commitment, a decision to stay at it no matter how difficult. But that was before I had really experienced difficulty, pain, and failure. Good relationships, it seems to me, are not based on common interest, shared activities, or even joint experience. It is more like something I learned in English literature class 40 years ago. It's a kind of willing suspension of disbelief, like reading a good novel and allowing yourself to engage in the world created by that story. It is like extending grace, suspending judgment, and knowing full well the potential of pain in the process of relating to someone else who is equally fallible, equally liable to disappoint and hurt you.

Hopeless as it would have been, I found myself longing to pull up a chair next to the blond beauty and her diversion-addicted husband and tell them the harsh truth, the counter-intuitive conclusion. Real relationships, lifelong relationships, meaningful relationships require perspective rarely found in our culture. Thriving relationships are grounded in a commitment to another in both weakness and strength, living with the tension of you/me/we, finding fulfillment and security in the place between gravity and centrifugal force.

The young woman with the pink blouse followed a few strides behind her husband, still engaged with his phone as they left the restaurant. I wondered how long it would last.

It was another hour before our group of five exchanged hugs and went our separate ways not knowing what life would bring before we met again, but knowing we would remain friends.


  1. What a wonderful message! Illness made our life different and seems sometimes shorter, sharpened. We would like for everybody to enjoy and appreciate to be simply alive! But sadly, experience it's different for anyone of us...
    I agree totally to your point of view, crossing life as a couple ask more than affinities! And everyday, I feel so lucky that my husband love me as if it was the first day. Sharing Parkinson is not easy but it showed us as fragile as we are. And if you accept to love someone for what he really is and not for what he could be, you have already done half way!
    Thank you very much for your postings :-)

  2. Love your post Bob ....sadly so true for this younger generation it seems ! I agree that life was simpler back then but still with it's problems ...just didn't know about them so soon !
    Have a great day !
    Velma B.

  3. I heard a pastor once comparing the look of someone loking down at their phone whole sitting at a table with anther person to them sitting tehr with a newspaper up blocking their whole body. it's so rude. I hat seeing parents as well out with their little kids, not able to pull their eyes away from their phone, even while they are walking accross a parking lot holding their little ones hand. I want to tell them, " that child is waaayyy more important then whatever sports stats you are riding, they will be grown up before you know it, and that teams stats will mean nothing.." I would like to ban these android phones. They have done more harm then good. Especially in getting ppl to really communicate Ina meaningful level with anyone.