I have a friend that I see in town from time to time, either at the market or in church.
She has always been a very lively and friendly person, full of questions and observations about the state of things. She has always had a friendly smile and a ready offer of information about things going on in her life as well. But sometimes I would steel myself for a long-winded response to what I thought was a simple question. She just loves to include all the details in telling a story and so it elicits a mental warning to be prepared to listen for a while.
In fact, I know several of those short story tellers; people who give you every last detail of the story, I mean every one. Sometimes they even bring in secondary characters to embellish the response. We, or certainly I, tend to dismiss them as out of touch with our quick, fact focused lives; who needs to know all that, I would sometimes muse?
They are natural story tellers, probably a throwback to a generation when the details were important; when that was the only way to find things out. People expected to be told everything, even if some of it was just opinion or even conjecture.
So, I have always expected long conversations when meeting her, and a few others like her. We came from very similar backgrounds, with similar family structures and habits of tradition and ethnicity. She always cooked everything to perfection, and she would be the ideal representative of Wooster Square Cooks, clinging to the old recipes and foods and never deviating from tradition. These are the people who keep everything from being lost to the rush to expediency that seems to dominate our lives these days.
How easy it is to just not bother with things that take a little more time than you have allocated in your busy day, or that don’t seem to be worth the effort. Now, alone most of the time, I understand how easy it is to succumb to the rationalization of the value of getting something done quickly. Why not just take the short way out? How tempting a prospect that can be. This can affect our interaction with others as well, “just send a message and don’t say too much” seems to be our modern method of communication.
But getting back to these wonderful story tellers; offering the long version to simple questions. I’m beginning to acquire a deeper level of respect for them. They are the hold outs against the tide of impersonal interaction that dominates our mostly high-tech interaction these days, and they are preserving an important link to our rich history of oral communication.
The Irish, for instance are inheritors of a deep love and appreciation of the spoken word, and they love to regale each other with wonderful stories that rely on the use of language to express deep emotion.
Perhaps those long-winded folks among us are, in their own way, preserving something important for all of us to experience. I think we should encourage more oral communication in school and provide opportunities to hone our ability to express our thoughts effectively.
I’m resolving to listen more carefully next time I ask a question or expect to actually get some information next time I ask how someone is. Putting the cell phone down is a good way to begin and a self-imposed ban on texting would be helpful as well. Talking, after all, is something uniquely interesting about being members of our species. Why not encourage more of it amongst us all?