[4-min read] “How are the conditions for skiing?” I asked a woman paused on Lake of the Isles. She seemed to be composing herself in minor ways, maybe putting her gloves back on, definitely shoving her hat from her forehead. “They’re really good,” she answered, eagerly more so than enthusiastically. “It’s my first time doing this in a long time, but I’m doing pretty good. I’m enjoying it. I just fell because I was trying to get from that spot to here—that’s my husband up there. He probably hasn’t even looked back yet.” She twisted to point. “But the tracks are better here. That’s where I was.” My husband and I verbally concurred, nodding our heads that the tracks were indeed better where she was standing.
We hadn’t seen her fall. And I wasn’t expecting her free-flowing conversation style. “Do you ski here?” she continued. We nodded yes. “If you’re an expert this is probably easy. I think the conditions are good. You would enjoy yourself. I’m happy with how I’m doing. Especially since I just went on Medicare. It’s a bit of a shock,” she shared—all of it, sharing. My husband and I emitted a low, “Ohhh” accompanied by a sympathetic tilt of our heads when she mentioned Medicare. (Only a decade-ish away from it ourselves, we both felt a nudge from our own mortality.)
As she wished us a great day and we responded in kind, each with the added sincerity that comes with the New Year, we left her to process her thoughts. I was confident she would be assisted by her connection with the vast frozen and snow-covered lake. A minute later, I was less confident that I had “met the moment,” though. Sure—I listened. But this past year, I’ve been striving to do more. When someone says “I fell” and/or “It’s a bit of a shock,” I want to hear it, register it, and be brave enough to meet that moment with something like, “Are you okay?” or a pause to let her say more, rather than assume she is fine because she looks unbroken, assume I know how she feels because I know how I would feel, or because I’m not brave enough to find out whether she needs one more moment of another person being there so she doesn’t feel so alone.
The book Amazing MN was in the cabin my husband and I rented to kick off our winter holiday. Among intriguing features of the state was a statistic claiming that Minnesotans talk less than inhabitants of other states. They/we are number four on the list of least talkative. I suspected as much soon after moving here and I mentioned it to my chiropractor. I admitted to her that it renders a new resident unsure about social rules. I described how sometimes I’ll say something, but rather than responding, the other person will say, “Hmm,” and give me a look I’m unsure how to interpret. I’m left to wonder whether I’ve said something offensive, antiquated, or inappropriate. My chiropractor seemed to know exactly of what I described, and postulated that maybe people say less rather than risk saying the wrong thing.
Two occasions when I’ve given in to a pandemic-isolation-plus-new-city-loneliness urge to talk here have garnered unexpected results: During my first appointment with a massage therapist, I blabbed my head off. At the end of the appointment, they thanked me! “It’s been great talking with you. No one talks to me. Thank you.” I was so surprised, I did the Minnesota thing and squinted a little, allowed a long pause, and finally responded, “My pleasure” almost as if it was a question. Did they mean it?
The second time, my husband and I tried a new (to us and the city) restaurant and sat at the bar. We exchanged a few pleasantries with our initial bartender and after five minutes or so, another bartender approached to help us select wine. Without us knowing, he had checked what food we ordered and came up with a couple pairing suggestions of which he offered to give us tastes. His suggestions were different from our usual preferences and we told him so, sharing that my mom used to live in Napa, and we enjoy wine tasting. “I have something for you, then, but you have to tell me what you think.” We sipped and opined, and after dinner he stopped back by to ask us to choose a fruit flavor. When he reappeared, he said, “It’s on me” and set down a dessert bowl and spoons. “I’m just so happy to have people who will talk to me.”
Occasionally, I ponder what might have pulled me to Minneapolis (aside from thorough statistical research). It’s an existential nuance of “Why am I here?” I am indeed passionate about communications. Might it be to refine how I communicate? And with that, surely, to become adept at ascertaining when to be brief and when someone would love for me to be a person who naturally engages them when they’re feeling “so happy to talk.”