This week I finish off an intense 8-week graduate class (only 3 to go!!!!) that has challenged my understanding, my thinking and my sleep schedule. I have had to ingest theological and philosophical theories to which I had no prior exposure and regurgitate them in discussions, papers, tests and presentations. Of course all of this is normal; y’all have been through school and know the drill. But this class had me reminiscing on my elementary and early high school experience, and I think it’s because the teacher interacted more with my work than any of the other students, despite it being a highly interactive class.
When I was young, I didn’t have many close friends. Not to say I wasn’t on friendly terms with a lot of people, I was – but there just weren’t many people around whom I felt totally comfortable being myself. I’ve already written about my early introvertedness, so you may understand that I was a quiet nerd who read a ton and preferred paper and ink to flesh and blood. Add to that a haughty spirit that refused to simplify my vocabulary for the sake of less confusing conversation, and you might begin to understand why I hadn’t many friends. Later in high school my small group of friends justified our outcast status (sorry Em and Bri, that’s pretty much what we were) by having the highest grades in the class. Small compensation.
My point is this: what started out as an unintentional disassociation with people due to not being understood grew to an intentional avoidance of people by refusing to be understood. My words were too big, and I liked it that way.
However, as hard as I tried to be a self-sufficient woman who don’t need nobody, I just couldn’t do it. Beginning in high school (but especially in college), I experienced an increasing desire to simply be around people. But I’d trained myself to speak about only what I considered significant and at an intellectual level (that to be honest, even I didn’t understand. It was just mumbo jumbo… much like this blog!) that I needed to learn how to interact with people again. My dad once told me, “Jules, if you take the time to really listen to what a guy has to say, he will bend over backwards to do anything you ask.” These words became my mantra. Not for getting a guy – that’s another kettle of fish that maybe someday I’d be willing to share, but for now is just too cringe-worthy – no, I listened to get people. To understand them. To make them comfortable. To have an excuse to be around them. I learned to ask questions and really listen to the answers. I learned to probe and patiently wait for them to willingly expose their souls. I learned to appreciate silence.
But I still hadn’t learned how to speak. In my quest to uncover the great minds and thoughts of others, I hid my own soul beneath layers upon layers of fear, pride, and uncertainty. I thought that listening was enough; I thought I could prove my care for people simply by being present and caring about their words. I honestly didn’t think anyone wanted or needed me to bare my soul to them: I was the archaeologist, not the artifact.
I was gradually proven wrong over the course of several years through interactions with people I cared for deeply. A boyfriend broke up with me because he couldn’t break through my walls. My college classmates called me a teacher’s pet because I only talked while in class. My mother had to instate a weekly communication policy, otherwise I’d go months without updating her on my life, and I’d shrivel up into myself and my problems.
My sister-in-law thought I hated her because I wouldn’t talk. In reality she is one of the coolest, kindest, most gorgeous women this earth has ever seen; I was slightly in awe. She and I have spent the last 3 years building a solid friendship that I thank God for every single day. She has been the most influential in teaching me small talk and girl talk and how to interact with normal people. She’s shown me that I’m normal. And a little weird. But that it’s totally okay and she’ll love me in spite of my weirdness!
My two best friends have taught me that usually for someone to completely open up to you, you need to be vulnerable first. I’ve learned that engaging in small talk proves you care about the little things. Until you have established a basic common ground, you’re never going to experience the joy of really knowing a person. Especially not my people, the people like me: the people with walls and layers and doors (and occasionally a troll) protecting their souls from intruders.
This whole process began with having a difficult time relating to people due to a large vocabulary. Then my pride got in the way and I pushed those people away on purpose. Around the time I realized how self-centered this was, my fear of rejection hindered me from growing close to people. Now I’ve come full circle: I am willing to be vulnerable, but my manner of speaking has gotten in the way. Again. This is where the class comes in. At the time I’m writing, complexity always seems the way to go. My grammar is good enough for my professors, so I rarely proofread or edit papers (hey, don’t judge… or do. maybe it’ll kick me into gear). But I’ve gone back to read some of them from over the years that have gotten good grades and just…
Wow. I mean, they make sense and sound impressive and the grade was fantastic and the teacher put lots of happy notes, but in reading it, even I was confused. And I wrote it! Is this what it’s like to talk to me? Dear world: I’m sorry. I didn’t know. Or I did, and didn’t care (take your pick from my life’s timeline). Now, I know that in some respects I should not give up on my own way of speaking. It is truly me, and I should not have to change that aspect of my personality just to please someone.
But here’s the thing: I want to have an impact on people. I want to help people. I want to share God’s love with people. My end goal is to work with children, and do you think children would understand the fact that I’m more suited to philosophical regurgitation than casual conversation? Would they even understand that sentence? So in my journey to be vulnerable and yet still relatable, my current project is simplicity. I’m thankful that one can cover a lot of ground with kids without saying a single word, and sometimes they’re better at answering questions than adults (their wall-guarding trolls are still miniature 🙂 ), but for the sake of those children who need the most help: for those who have guard trolls on steroids due to unfair struggles and incredibly difficult life situations- for them I will go through the struggle of learning to communicate. It’s not about me. It’s not about who I need to be or even who I am. It’s God and it’s them. And they’re worth the journey.