Some people divide the world into haves and have nots, others into groups based on color or who we love, maybe the separating lines are which team you root for on Sunday afternoon. For me it is this: Are you an interrupter or one who listens with intentionality? Now some may argue that this is not an important issue during these times of political and environmental unrest, when it is imperative that voices of truth be heard above the forces that would shut them down. Sing it, Sista! I do hear you. Still, I know that my life has been marked by interruptions, the significant points in my journey are all places where I was stopped unexpectedly while moseying along or speeding forward with mission focus. Then, bam, slam, screeching brakes and my progress is interrupted. I know these events have given me opportunities for growth but only through much pain and most often the loss of that plan in exchange for a new one. So when I am talking with someone and I get interrupted, maybe not the first time but if it is a habit of theirs, my skin gets itchy, sweaty chills cover my body, I feel the rage building. Enough with the delays, I just want my turn to go, go, go.
My first recollection of being cut short was in elementary school when my parents divorced. Clearly as the child of sexual abuse, I can assert that my entire life plan was disturbed by the horrific actions of others, a waylaying of the dreams that God had for me. Maybe that overarching trauma is why the little and huge delays are focal points for me. Still, at my elementary school, all the grades were together with little desks and smaller chairs and access tot he smaller playgrounds, except the 5th graders. They learned and played in the new big wing that was glorious and had larger desks and the pencil sharpeners were higher on the wall and the playground had no fence. The goal of every child was to be a 5th grader, to own that school with our evident importance, to be the ones allowed to walk through the halls delivering notes and passes and look condescendingly down at all our poor small brothers and sisters, to collect their wishes as we walked by, knowing we were at the peak. I longed to be in that wing, I just couldn’t wait to have those teachers who seemed to dress smarter and have better supplies. I wanted to have the confidence I knew came with an assignment in that hallway. Then my parents divorced and we moved the summer before my 5th grade year and I lost my school. I am sure my mother had no idea of the gravity of this move, how changing schools systems interrupted my reaching those dreams. I almost made it, I did the work, I suffered the withering looks of older kids, I never reached that wing. Matters were made worse by the completely alternative school setting I then attended, I have written about that and the saving grace of my friend Lisa. Still, I didn’t recover well, my progress was interrupted and it took some time to regain my footing.
Later, in high school, I had to graduate early and enroll in college classes in order to maintain Social Security benefits that would pay for my education. The final semester, the one I had intentionally left full of fluff classes, having taken everything I actually needed to complete all the requirements during all the packed semesters before, gone in an instant. I no longer went to school with friends who were skipping out and planning prom, I was thrust into college courses with people who drove to school and then went to jobs, not my dream of college either. A long delay that broke my spirit and left me out of step and alone. The haunting of 5th grade, I knew these ghosts but couldn’t find a way to make the change good, to see the opportunities afforded me.
Later, I married before I graduated from college, seemingly unable to now finish with the same group I started with, an unconscious force requiring that I break it off with education just when things were getting really good. I got pregnant during grad school, and chose to delay my studies, a 3 year program turned into 4. I have written much on how I derailed my career, but through the lens of interruptions, I can see that I have a certain inability to cross the finish line, at least on time.
I know also that my most important, most dear life plan ever has been critically interrupted. It could be argued that the suspension came when I sat in jail and my children waited at home. It could be argued the interruption came when I couldn’t sing to them at night or hold them on my lap or make snacks or carry them on my hip as I busied about the house. I can see now that the line was just fuzzy, that I was not accepting a disconnection. I maintained all routes of communication and was blessed with weekly visits. Still, 2 1/2 years were lost. The real interruption wouldn’t come for 20 years.
It is clear to me now that when I am speaking, I just want to be heard. I value those who listen without preparing their response before the words have left my mouth. I crave the presence of those who are comfortable with silence, who can allow space for thoughts to form and ideas to percolate. I find solace in relationships where careful consideration is given to the message, where effort is expended in determining meaning. How much is missed when we stop another short in our quest to ask a question, force our ideas into the air that was carrying theirs? Like a fan that circulates the dust particles around the room, nothing ever lands, nothing is heard when everything stays swirling. Conversely, the quiet, the listening, the actual hearing, that is grace. Holiness happens in the moments where truth can be spoken, when we meet each other at the altar of our own hard stuff and find there is room for all of us. No need to push or shove aside to get our truth spoken, we find many truths can co-exist, we find the answers to questions come if we wait. So folks who practice interrupting or have trouble with silence are hard for me to be around.
Lately I have been so taken with the concept of being present, really aware of the moment I am in. I want to look forward to the 5th grade hallway or the day my children and I are reconciled. I want to rush forward to when everything will be better, trying to get through this long interruption and back to my real life. But what if this IS my life? This very moment when Plum sits on my lap and I type around him, his long legs now almost reaching the floor, his wiggling bottom indicating he needs to pee, the smell of little boy filling my lungs and soul as he rests his sleepy head against my chest. This is my moment right now, my life within the interruption, my opportunity to detour and find a new path. Because the truth is that the new school in 5th grade brought me a life long friend. Going to college early may have saved my life, I was drinking and driving and on a poor choice path. I left grad school to spend a year with my daughter, one I will never regret. Those interruptions were also opportunities for me to check my trip outline, to see that other options were better suited for me.
Maybe my battle with interrupters is not completely fair. I may have lost sight that sometimes I need the air to be circulated, I need someone to help me pause. Because my thoughts can go on for too long in the wrong direction, a gentle “Um, Lisa, can I get a word in?” may be just the thing. I sat in on a meeting a few days ago and listened as my good friend who is quieter seemed to struggle to be heard in the larger more vocal group. My own Chef repeatedly jumped in when she was speaking. Later as we processed the event, he had no idea, said he was supporting her words, her truth. When he apologized to her, she was completely unaware and did not experience it that way. Her take: maybe I am just a bit sensitive in that area. Ouch. So the jury is out for me and interruptions. I don’t have resolution on my big pet peeve, except to know I am working on being here right now and hope that you can join me in this space. I am really curious how others experience interruptions, how conversation flow affects you. Thoughts, comments, go! Are interrupters an either/or bad/good deal breaker or necessary to keep the conversation going?