Can you remember all the summers you’ve had? How about all the hurtful moments or all the happy moments? Even with a good memory, only a few of us remember our lives like a storybook. The sequence, the details of every moment are just too hard to store in our limited memories. I bet though, most of us can remember the ‘defining moments’….like the ones where you were embarrassed, you secretly wished you didn’t exist or that it was a dream? You’ll remember the regrets too, most likely. The ones that make us wish we could turn back time, just so we could go back and re- do it. Then there are the moments of deep and sustained joy or sadness. Funny how, being the polar opposites they can sit side by side in that statement. Deep joys and deep sadnesses have just that kind of impact. That’s why I think tears are like the unifying symbol. When you are sad you cry, when you are deeply happy- you cry. How does it happen? Something touches us to our core so deeply, that though the emotion may be different, it produces the same result…tears. It’s brilliant actually. I don’t think it’s about the ‘type’ of emotion actually. I think it’s about the depth of emotion.
Those are the things we remember.
That is why I think a lot of us are averse to creating moments that create neither; nor lasting sadness that touches us to our core, nor sustained happiness that puts the fear of God in us, lest it be taken away. We avoid small talk. Oh we can manage it well enough but each time we indulge in it, we are distinctly aware of the time we are losing. It frustrates us but if you are a congenial person, which I think I am, you just go along with it, all the while, wondering WHY can’t we just move on, end the conversation, be rude, avoid further discourse….
Small talk is unappealing to me at best but those who know me probably think I’m pretty good at it because I do go on. I can entertain and smile even when I feel like life is ending and I’ll never be happy again. Weird, isn’t it? I think it’s just the way I thought I was supposed to behave, so often I am caught up in between feeling like I should just be myself and that feeling that makes me just go along with the way of the world, well because there is no need to propecize how you’re feeling. Besides everyone is so busy in their own lives, who wants to start a deep discussion about how I am ‘ truly’ feeling on a given day.
Years of rearing rituals have ensured most people answer the same way when asked, ‘how are you?’. Most people say, ‘great’, ‘good’, ‘fantastic!’, when in reality most of us are farthest from that feeling. How do we break this bubble we’ve created around us that cannot be broken? I mean, if the dry cleaner asks you ‘how are you?’ He’s not really asking for the story of your life, he’s just being polite, using this question as a way to greet you. We really should consider if this is the most appropriate greeting. Do we ‘really’ have time to hear how everyone we meet in a given day is doing? So imagine this day for a second. For the purpose of this exercise I’ll remind you that the family we live with asks us how we are doing, fully expecting and prepared for an honest answer. With them we do express (usually) our honest feelings, unless you are in a fight, then all expressions and their ‘true’ meaning goes out the window! Ever heard of the discourse between a husband and wife, who are thawing out from a disagreement and the husband says ,’how are you?’ And the wife says, ‘fine’. We are not going to go into those types of conversations. For the purpose of the philosophical discussion at hand we will stick to scenarios that skirt this kind of expression(for obvious reasons! That would be a different post entirely!)
Ok,,so to go back to pretending…you start your day, everyone has gone off to their respective stations (work, school, etc. things that can’t be avoided). You get a knock at the door. The Fed Ex delivery guy is at your door. You say ‘hello’ and the guy says ”hello’. You say ‘how are you?’. Remember now, this is the cursory greeting we use, like an extension to a file name. It is in no way an invitation to spill your guts. Now imagine that the Fed Ex guy is not well versed in social mores and starts taking your question at face value! Next thing you know, it’s 2 hours later, you’re growing roots into the spot near your door and the Fed Ex guy is still telling you what an unsuccessful day it’s been so far because he woke up to an apartment full of cat poop because his cat has gone senile and in controlling the situation he was late to work, his boss yelled at him despite his perfect record of being prompt on the job and how he was late starting and… Well you get the idea. If you are me, you’re just standing there being polite and trying to figure out a sure fire way of getting this guy back to his truck! Now imagine that you had this exchange with everyone you saw that day. I think you’re starting to get the picture 🙂
In short, it is a ridiculous way to greet people. If you don’t want to hear the true answer to, ‘how are you?’, please don’t ask the question? I’m tempted sometimes to throw people off, think I got the idea from my husband, to say something like ‘oh I feel like crap’ and get off onto a rant about why, just to mess with the dry cleaner or the Shoppers’ clerk or whoever. I think it would be quite funny actually.
So going back to my original train of thought, why involve ourselves in all these moments of small talk and non essential banter if we’re bound to forget about it just as soon as the door shuts on the Fed Ex guy and we rip into the contents of the package? What is the point of wasting ALL that precious time just to be one with our societal mores?
I guess the pleasantries and small talk can have its place as long as we play by the rules; say, ‘fine, thank you’ to the Fed Ex guy and move on to the bigger fish that’s waiting to be fried.
Afterall, more than likely, that moment isn’t going to have the lasting effect that makes it part of your permanent etched memory.
Go on, have your small talk and forget it too, like you are bound to. The good stuff will come in its own good time. Until then, we’ll let the small talk bridge the gap between ‘how are you’ and the real answer one of your family members gives you.