The Nothings of Life

I was awake until after 4 a.m. this morning. I slept until 7 a.m. and then I slept fitfully with many wakings for another hour before getting up.

I have been utterly exhausted today, moving through the day in a thick fog. There were so many things I wanted to get done, but I am pushing them off until tomorrow. EJ and I walked to the bank this morning and then on to the post office for the mail. Our town is so small that there is no home delivery for residents. We all have post office boxes. When we first moved here, I couldn’t believe our mail wouldn’t be delivered, but I quickly grew to enjoy the daily walks to the post office and the occasional interactions with the people we meet along the way.

I am glad that I made pizza and potato salad yesterday. I let EJ and JJ have the leftover pizza for lunch today, and I chose to have potato salad. An easy meal.

JJ had to leave for work at 1:30 p.m. today, and EJ left at 2:30. To be honest, I spent the whole morning looking at the clock and thinking, “When they leave for work, I am going to lie down and take a nap!” When I was finally alone, I took Danny for his walk. I debated whether to walk him or forget it for the day, but he looks forward to it so much that I just couldn’t disappoint him. I certainly could manage a 30 minute walk. When we got home, I changed into my pjs, settled on the couch. Ahhhhh. Sleep!

But as tired as I am, I can’t sleep. Maybe I will sleep tonight. Only hours to go before bed time. Stupid Prednisone. 

Here are some rambling thoughts from a sleep-deprived mind that are sort of a continuation of the thoughts of my previous post.

My Dad loved gadgets. He had some interesting gadgets. For example, he hooked our living room lamps to a small control box in the dining room. It was fun telling my nephew that there were leprechauns in the house, and then remotely turning on and off the lights when only he was in the living room. However, after awhile it got tiresome to have to go into the dining room whenever we wanted to turn on/off the living room lights. “Go turn on this light,” my Dad would say, and off we’d go to the dining room to push a button to turn on the lamp sitting on the table next to him.

Early computer modem Photo: NPR.Org.
Early computer modem
Photo: NPR.Org.

When I was in high school, my Dad got a computer. He had the first personal computer among our family, friends, and acquaintances. Home computers were so new that when he wanted a new program, he had to input pages and pages of small print coding from a magazine. One little mistake could cause the program to not work right and then we’d have to go character by character, line by line, page by page to find the one semicolon that should have been a comma. My Dad also had the predecessor to a website. It was called a “computer bulletin board.” He put the handset of the phone into a modem cradle and those who knew the phone number could dial it up and access the information on his computer.  It sounds archaic now, but it was high tech then. It makes me sound ancient, but I’m not really. Technology really changed very quickly.

Back in those days, there wasn’t email. People had to write letters. Once in a while, a friend shared big and exciting news–acceptance to college, marriage, or the birth of a child–but most of the time their letters went something like this:

Hi.

How are you? I am fine. Nothing much is happening here. I hope you are well. Well, I’ve got to go.

Love [Friend]

I always was dissatisfied with such letters because they said nothing. I always wrote letters filled with small details–the “boring” little details of what I did or what I thought.  My friends seemed to like my letters–maybe because I brought them into my day, letting them share my life with me.

A few years ago, I encountered a woman who I hadn’t seen since we were young children. She was the cashier at Walmart ringing up my groceries. I recognized her mostly because of her name tag. Her name was so unusual that I knew it had to be her. When I introduced myself, she remembered me, and asked, “So, what’s been happening…?” as if we had last seen each other a week ago instead of a lifetime ago. At her question, my whole life from the time I last saw her until that point fast forwarded through my mind. So much had happened! However, I simply replied, “Nothing much” and summed up the major highlights (“I went to college, got married, had a child…”) because it was impossible to describe a lifetime of details in the few minutes it took her to ring up my groceries.

Sometimes I laugh that I really just write about nothing, and always have, and I wonder why anyone would bother reading it. However, I actually see value in the nothings of life that are sandwiched between the major highlights. I often ponder that Laura Ingalls Wilder simply wrote about the everyday nothings of her life, but people love her books because what was everyday routine for her–milking the cow or making butter–became fascinating glimpses into another life for those who read her books later. I think of a time years ago when EJ and I sat on the porch of an older couple from church and listened avidly to stores of their early life, of having to patch blown tires every few miles when they went to town because tires on the early cars weren’t as strong as today’s tires. Can you imagine?

Some day, all our descriptions of nothing will be glimpses into different eras.

Even back when I was writing letters to friends, I realized that life isn’t about the big events; it’s about the small details. It’s the small day-to-day struggles and victories, joys and sorrows, failures and victories that affect us most, changing us imperceptibly until we suddenly realize that we have been changed completely without noticing. Those who can’t be there to share the details with us, who only get the highlights, don’t really share life with each other. They grow apart.

In a similar way, I think those who share only their strengths with others are missing something deep and powerful. They are often very nice people and I believe they are trying to be strong, inspiring, and encouraging, which is admirable. However, I find it difficult to really connect with them at more than superficial levels because for me trust isn’t built in only the strong, happy times, just as life isn’t really shared only in the highlights. I know that everyone is touched by weakness, failure, heartache at one point or another in their lives, but when a person only shares the happy, strong times…I find no real point of connection. I always wonder: Are they being honest about where they are? Can they not trust others with their lives? Can they understand or have compassion for others’ sufferings? If they can’t share the suffering, how can they understand what others have overcome or really share in their joy?

Of course, I understand that you can’t share at deep levels all the time or with everyone. But I forge connections with those who share themselves. I love friends who share both their laughter and tears with me, who let me into the details of their lives. I think one of the most powerful things a friend has said to me was, after I went through suffering similar to hers, “I always knew you cared…but now I know you understand.” I have experienced rejection, a miscarriage, infertility, chronic illness, and more. I can’t remember how many times someone has said to me, “I share this deep heartache with you because I know you have been there [because I told them], and I know you will understand…”

Just as life is shared through the shared details of life, I think connections are forged in the realness of life.

On a sort of connected thought: Occasionally I hear people complain that the Internet is destroying connections between people–because people no longer write letters or communicate face to face. Others complain that people share silly trivial stuff on social media like Facebook.  “Who cares what someone had for lunch?” they mock. I think these people connect best face-to-face, and that is fine. But I think they need to understand that people are all different and have different ways of relating and connecting. It’s not “one size fits all.” 

I find the Internet and social media has increased my ability to connect. I love hearing of the little nothings of a friend’s day–even what she had for lunch. I love sharing family pictures, swapping recipes, exchanging advice, trading jokes, sharing another funny cat picture, studying with others with similar interests, and participating in discussions of interesting topics with an expanding circle of friends from all around the world. I love getting glimpses of daily lives that are different from mine, whether from friends in Iowa, Texas, Oregon…or Africa, Austria, Australia, the Netherlands, or a small island across the Atlantic. I ask questions of what life is like for them, and I learn about places of the world that I barely knew existed. I hear about problems like sheep getting buried in an unexpected snowstorm in the U.K. or a woman trying to get her garden to grow during a drought in Austria. I try to wrap my mind around the fact that the very hot summer months of June, July, and August are cold winter months for friends in Australia. I hear about holidays, traditions, or social issues that I was ignorant about from people experiencing them. If I say in the middle of the night “I am awake,” voices immediately respond from around the world: “Why?” I am entrusted with stories of private pain that breaks my heart or joys that delight me. I listen to the stories, and reach out in the night to encourage, or sometimes share silly stuff just to help people laugh.  I care, really care, and the caring ripples out to beyond my little family and local surroundings to reach the friends around the world.

Photo: mariamedia.net
Photo: mariamedia.net

I love the connection to the world I have through the Internet.

I am more than a quiet woman shopping at the grocery store trying to choose between one bunch of carrots and another. The world touches me and I touch the world.

But now I have to go wash dishes.

And maybe I will take a nap.

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