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What Made Me Smile - Connecting and Handling Hard Things Better

There are no

strangers here;

Only friends you

haven't yet met.

William Butler Yeats, Irish poet

At 5:30 last night my husband came bounding down the stairs, grabbed his coat, and reminded me it was “community dinner” night. Indeed, several church groups had recently organized, each taking a turn periodically in the kitchen so that a free community meal could be served once a week at the Cashmere Methodist Church.

I had to kick myself in the derriere to go. It’s hard to understand.

After all, I know the importance of community. I’ve shared the Gallup findings on how community detachment contributes to negative emotions – loneliness and unhappiness.

Nevertheless, I am somewhat reserved when it comes to connecting with others, especially people I don’t know well. Maybe many of us are. (One of my family members tells me even dogs are basically shy.)

I don’t know how it goes for you, but I must work with June to get her out of the house, to move her along. I remind myself of my values, re-visit my intentions to help us all belong to each other and to promote happy, flourishing communities. (I remember a little clip a friend had shown me earlier in the day on doing hard things).

When we get to the community dinner, I look around. I know three people. I am determined not to sit with anyone I know including my husband. Instead I am looking for strangers and people who don’t “look like me.”

I choose a table where three others are sitting. Two are different by virtue of age (perhaps thirty years younger) and one is different by gender and...appearance.

The man has slung off his sandals and is barefoot. He's decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, has painted black nails, and sports a huge gold earring on his left ear (I have on my Hoka tennis shoes, Eddie Bauer shirt, pants, and vest.) He doesn’t look up when I ask if I may join them.

After introducing myself, the man continues eating his meal without acknowledging me. Finally, after a few minutes of conversation with the two young women, I ask his name. He looks up with a scowl on his face, tells me his name. Then he voluntarily offers that he does not go to church nor believe in God.

Inexplicably, I liked him. He was a put-up job, a marshmallow, as far as I was concerned.

The man was trying to present a particular version of himself...a hardened Vietnam Vet, an old hippie still locked into drugs and rock and roll. He looks at me and says, “And I like whisky.”

My eyes light up. “I like whisky too,” I say. “I’m from Tennessee.” (I really have had several sips of Jack Daniels in my life. Especially when I have a chest cold, maybe it's a hillbilly thing).

Now this gets the man's attention. He puts his hand out for a fist-bump. I ask him, “What made you smile today?”

“My ducks.” As it turns out ducks are quite interesting. The duck talk opens the door to deeper and more authentic, true talk. He has broken his back. He was hooked for a while on narcotics. He got off them, doesn’t even drink anymore.

Despite the large age difference, he explains that the young woman beside him is his significant other. She lovingly touches his arm and recounts how one of his sons protected her from being bullied when she attended high school.

At this point, I realize that they’ve long finished their food. I am still working on my plate. “Please don’t think you must wait here while I finish.”

“We are not waiting on you,” the man barks.

“Yes, you are,” I bark back. “I’ve got your number…you are too...being polite.”

The man grins. The conversation continues. Several more join us. It feels good. Good as a community meal in a church gym can feel I’m guessing.

If you’d have ask me yesterday what made me smile I could have said several things. For one thing, I met a good friend for coffee, connected, learned a lot, and was inspired.

(My friend shared a that little clip which I mentioned earlier that probably helped me deal with my reluctance about going to the community dinner. The clip is about not expecting things to be easy but learning to handle hard things better...reminding us that any meaningful pursuit is going to involve doing increasingly hard things

The community dinner. That's the second thing that made me smile. I'm proud of myself getting out the door. Meeting new folks. I liked them. Who knew?

So what is this blog about? For one thing, in general, it’s about getting out of our comfort zones, not expecting things to be easy. More specifically it's about making ourselves connect with others, especially strangers and people who are a little different than we are. Not always, but sometimes, it can be a blast.

And let me take a little detour to go on a bit of a rant. We do belong to each other. We need each other, we regulate each other. We are unhappy sitting alone in our big houses or small huts because it's easy.

Second, without dismissing our troubles, let’s take a little time to share more about what makes us smile. Just as connecting with others pumps us up, so do conversations that direct us toward noticing what’s going well. Positive emotions are jet fuel for igniting our hope, love, joy, happiness, and resilience.

On that note, here’s one response a reader shared via email about what made her smile which gave me another smile:

I was at Weeds Café in Cashmere for the first time ever with two friends visiting me from Leavenworth. All of us in our 50s and 60s. We were talking about the heaviness of life. Then this little preschool class walked by. These adorable little kids…and one little girl looked right through the window at us and waved. It made me smile. It was simply the cutest. Especially for me since I’m not a real kid person. Lol.

How might we kick ourselves in the derriere, do hard things, get out the door, meet strangers, notice what makes us smile, and journey together to The Good Life?


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