Being a Good Friend (Weekly Writing Challenge)

(It’s not my typical way of writing a story, but the Weekly Writing Challenge wanted me to be all personal.  So, I’ll tell part of a story that’s been three hundred and fifty years in the making.)

When we really want to hear, and be heard by, someone we love, we do not go rushing into noisy crowds.  Silence is a form of intimacy.  That’s how we experience it with our friends and lovers.  As relationships grow deeper and more intimate, we spend more and more quiet time alone with our lover.  We talk in low tones about the things that matter.”  Brent Hill, Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality

**********

“Why do I feel like I’m always the one talking when we get coffee?”

“I always feel like I’m unloading on you.”

“Now, don’t tell anyone else I said this.”

Much of my life is spent not talking.  As someone who slings coffee twenty hours a week, you’d be amazed, stunned, and entertained at the things people tell me.  When I go on a walk with a friend, odds are that they’ll have more to say than I will.  Oh sure, I have my opinions.  I spend hours a day thinking and arranging my thoughts.  However I can almost guarantee that I’ll be the quiet one.  And what can I say; it’s all in my upbringing.

Now, my quiet stance can be traced to my family numerous ways.  For one thing, we’re all nerds.  My brother, my sister, my mom, my dad, the in-laws; every adult wears glasses.  For each child that’s born, you should simply start taking bets on when they’ll get the ol’ four-eyes nickname.  It’s a foregone conclusion.  Our idea of “family visiting” is sitting in the same room reading our books or surfing our laptops.  That’s quality together time on our world.  Doctorates, analyzers, engineering degrees; we’ve got ‘em all.  I was taught about DOS prompts (ask your parents) when I was five.  We’re nerds who always have our noses in a computer screen or a book.  However, I think our religious upbringing plays the biggest role in me being slow to speak.

Nine generations ago my family started being Quakers (or Friends, if you prefer).  They tried it out a few hundred years ago, it worked for them, and it carried forward.  Now, here I sit, content with my religion.  Some family members have found different routes that work better for them.  (We still love each other regardless.  Honest.)  For me, I can’t imagine anything other than Quakerism.  I don’t like every single thing about my church, but the history works well.  I like how they treated Native Americans, women in leadership, and their roots in The Underground Railroad.  Also, and perhaps most pertinently to this, they are big on sitting and listening.

800px-Treaty_of_Penn_with_Indians_by_Benjamin_WestThere are two kinds of Quaker service, programmed and unprogrammed.  Programmed will flow like most church services.  There is a message, some songs, and announcements.  But my favorite part is where, for at least ten minutes after the message, we sit and listen.  We listen to the thoughts in our heads, to what God’s telling us, and to what our fellow congregants feel led to share.  Go with me Sunday morning and you’ll sit in a large room with a solid chunk of silence.  In this busy world, it’s quite freeing.

Unprogrammed is a more extended version of those ten or so minutes.  There is no planned message, no edict on how to proceed.  The gathering simply sits and enjoys the quiet until someone feels like they have something to share.  Many times there will be an hour where no one says anything.  Whichever service one attends, programmed or not, there is a concentrated effort to spend time in silence.

That works for me.  I wake up at four in the morning and spend a good thirty minutes reading my Bible, scratching the cat, and making very little noise.  When I get on the bus, that’s another thirty minutes for me to sit still, not listen to music or read, and try to filter out the noises in the world.  By the time I’m at work, I’m about as calm and centered as I can be.

When I find something that bothers me, I sit with it.  I turn it around in my head.  I try to figure out how this one incident fits into the big picture.  I can’t guarantee that I refrain from outbursts altogether, but my go-to behavior is to be quiet and think it out.  Save the discussions until I’ve fully formulated my thoughts.

That’s how I end up being the listener with most of my friends.  Even in school I was the quiet one, though comics certainly helped that along.  But when my friends and I go for a walk, odds are they will be saying what is important to them.  I’ll take what they say and try to listen.  If I feel like I have something to say, then I will.  However most times I’m supposed to be shut the sam hill up and let them vent.  I find that my friends need less advice in their lives and more hugging, so that’s what I do.

And yes, I realize that sometimes it is hard to get a conversation out of me.  I can go months without chatting with a new coworker.  I can spend three days sitting at home without calling or checking in with anybody.  I see the downside to the way I do things.  I’m certainly not the exciting one at any party.  Yet from where I’m sitting, I think it’s better to keep my trap shut, process all my thoughts, and then be sociable.  It’s worked for eight other generations of Quakers, so I’ll take my cue from them.

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About anecdotaltales
He's a simple enough fellow. He likes movies, comics, radio shows from the 40's, and books. He likes to write and wishes his cat wouldn't shed on his laptop.

17 Responses to Being a Good Friend (Weekly Writing Challenge)

  1. Pingback: HARLEQUIN: Weekly Writing Challenge | alienorajt

  2. Tess Ross says:

    Loved your piece. Thanks for sharing … and yes, I know that the Quakers are known for their silence and us ‘ordinary’ Christians can learn from them.

  3. s1ngal says:

    Great post!!!

    You sound like one of my cousins, who’s always there with his shoulders [for me to cry on]. All I need to do is reach out for him and there he is – all silence. There’re no questions, no “What’s the matter?” no “everything will be alright” – just silence.

    It’s relieving and calming – the silence!

    • I have friends who can’t -stand- silence. They always want activity. That drives me up the wall. Lemme just be there and we can just be quiet together.

      p.s. Hi! 😀

      • s1ngal says:

        I hate when people become gibberish because they “apparently” can’t – stand – silence. However, it doesn’t mean I’m always silent like thou art, I talk when I talk but when there’s nothing to talk about I know I can keep my trap shut and enjoy silence even more.

        p.s. Hi back!

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  9. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for “Being a Good Friend” … for sharing the seeds of your ponderings, for your words and the silence between them. I appreciate your Quakerly presence.

  10. Carole Puri says:

    I’m not good at figuring out how not to be anonymous.

  11. Austin says:

    Great post Phillip! I’m also a quiet person and it has served me well. Then of course, I found Quakerism too. 🙂

    PS. Hi! We met at church.

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