I’ve been back to teaching for a few days after a long winter break, but I’m reflecting back on the last day I was on campus before the break and a conversation I had with my son.
A few weeks ago, while I was getting my son ready for bed, he said something to me that has caused me to reflect, as he often does. We were talking about the highs and lows of our days: I talked to him about my writing and a recent rejection by a major newspaper I had my sights on, and he explained to me his Lego creation. Sometimes, I find that I talk to him like I would an old friend. For six, he’s an old soul and while he can be silly and sometimes even incorrigible, he often takes the time to listen to me. And somehow, he understands me. As we were talking, he looked up at me, put his hands on my face, and said, “Mama, I think you just want to be noticed.” I just stared into his eyes, and I said, “Yes, I think you’re right.” And he said, “Well, I think we all want to be noticed.” I hadn’t thought of it like that, really, but don’t we all want to be noticed? Don’t we all want someone to take the time actually to see us?
I write publically and pour my feelings out here on the page, and for the most part, I live that way, too. It’s very easy to tell how I’m feeling by looking at my face. When I was a little girl, I was once so shocked that my mouth was hanging open, aghast, at something (I can’t remember what). My mom thought my reaction was inappropriate and I remember her reaching over to raise my chin. I didn’t even realize my mouth was gaping open! Later, in high school, the Algebra teacher, who wasn’t super crazy about me (I’m sure that was partially my fault), said to my parents, in a feigned attempt at a compliment, “Well, I can always tell if Kara can’t understand. Her brows are furrowed.”
I’m an open book and I have always been, and that hasn’t always worked in my favor or been a positive thing. I often say too much or act in haste. I’m emotional and sensitive and intuitive, for better or for worse. And I notice so much; I notice too much; I notice things other people wish I didn’t. I’m good at making small talk—like really good–but I secretly despise it. I’ve been trying to have real conversations with people I meet in an attempt to be authentic and sometimes, it works. But often it doesn’t.
It was an unseasonably warm December here in Pennsylvania. Last month, I had to give semester exams to my seniors and I ended up being at school over the lunch hour. This rarely happens and usually, if it does, I stay in my classroom. Because it was so beautiful, I decided to eat my lunch outside. I walked through the cafeteria, waved to a few colleagues, but I went outside to sit alone. I just wasn’t in the mood for the traditional small talk. The sun was shining; the air was crisp. I was content to be alone in a rare moment of quiet.
I sat like that and ate my lunch until a colleague came to join me. I’ve worked with her for ten years, but we have never had a real conversation. Sure, we’ve exchanged niceties almost weekly, but we’ve never really talked. She sat with me and she initiated a real conversation about her growing children and her place in it all. She opened up to me in a way that, quite honestly, shocked me—not for what she said, but that fact that she said it to me at all. The conversation turned to me after she asked me a question, and I talked to her about how I felt I was perceived sometimes. We had a conversation that was reflective and healing, for us both. We also talked about how most people don’t take the time to stop and to see people—her exact words were “people just don’t even notice.”
Later, we swapped a quick email about our talk and about taking the time to notice other people. I hadn’t told her what my son had said to me, but it was all just so perfectly timed. I truly received the message. Sometimes, we all just want to be noticed and in my haste to be alone, I likely missed an opportunity to notice someone else. I’m glad my co-worker followed me outside. We took time to notice one another—to really see one another, even in a short time—and even though it can be hard to be open and authentic, I’m going to keep trying. I hope you will, too, because the surprise connections can be the most rewarding.