I was at the beach the other day with my kids, during a camping expedition to a local island, in our twenty-something-year-old, used motor home. (Hubby was working and couldn’t join us until evening.) I had stocked up on all my creature beach comforts, including my iPod and cooking magazines, and except for an occasional dip in the ocean with the kids, I was prepared to pretty much relax and zone out by myself for awhile—a welcome thing.
A New Playmate
To no avail, I was trying to get the kids to eat up the grapes which I had brought along for this venture (two varieties, no less), and which were getting hot in the sun, when a little six-year-old girl joined us, looking very eager to help relieve me of my surplus fruit. I asked her mom nearby (later, this pleasant woman turned out to be the little girl’s very youthful-looking, early-fifties-something grandmother), if it would be ok if the girl shared some of the grapes with us. The woman seemed appreciative and said “Sure.” After finishing the grapes, the little girl continued hanging about our beach blanket, especially when I was passing out juice boxes. So, with the grandmother’s permission, the girl joined us for a cold drink, too, and in no time at all, was sharing beach pails and shovels with my kids.
Stranded Grandma and the Reluctant Good Samaritan
The girl’s grandmother quickly explained that her boyfriend was scuba diving in the outlying harbor and had dropped her and the granddaughter (who was getting very bored at sea) off on the island, while he and his five companions continued to dive for lobster. “Cool,” I said. “Well, we didn’t really pack that well,” the lady replied, as she and her granddaughter hopped off at the boat landing rather impromptu, thinking that the guys would have finished up by now. Ah, I finally understood…They were stranded on the island, until the boyfriend came back. And the little girl didn’t have any beach toys to play with. The woman seemed a bit embarrassed. “I left most of what I should have brought, back on the boat,” she said.
I could totally relate. When my kids were really small, I was never one of those Moms, with the well-stocked diaper bag, who could readily pull out whatever might be needed, at a moment’s notice–an extra change of clothes, a snack, a juice box, the perfect-sized band-aid, why even double A batteries…No one would ever accuse me of being that organized. One of the main reasons I bought a 34-foot motor home, afterall, was so I could stop worrying about packing my beach bag.
As if to justify my investment, I was happy to help out the grandmother and little girl. I went back to the trailer, bringing back sundry treats: watermelon, whoopie pies, and drinks. The woman laughed at the contradiction of the snack I offered her: whoopie pie and diet coke. That she noticed the contradiction so quickly struck me—why, this woman sort of gets me, I thought, with some surprise.
She moved her blanket closer to my beach chair, and we chatted casually about all manner of things, while our respective kids played together in the sand, punctuated by quick dips, in to the unseasonably cool July waters.
I remembered my magazines and iPod, a few times, a bit ruefully at first, but the conversaton and laughs came so easly, I really didn’t mind, and soon started to enjoy the company. When her boyfriend and the other divers finally came back ashore, the kids were hugging each other goodbye, and the woman offered me lobsters from the scuba expedition. “Thank you for the food and conversation,” she said quite simply.
The Lost Art of Conversation
“Thank you for the food and conversation.” That’s something you don’t hear so often, these days. I’ve turned the phrase over in my mind, a few times since that day, wondering why it made such an impression on me. “Thank you for the food and conversation.” Lately, I’ve heard so much about conversation, in the context of social media, especially Twitter. This was the first time in awhile that I heard the word “conversation” applied the old-fashioned way.
There was something about the random conversation with the stranded grandmother that reminded me of how rare it is that we truly connect, even for a short time, so effortlessly, with someone outside our immediate circle. And how much of an impression it makes on us, when someone gives us attention in that way, when it’s not required. When all the stars align right, and you just click with someone, and enjoy talking about everything and nothing, and feel a bit sad when the conversation ends. How rarer still, it is to connect in such a way with a stranger. And how as much as the online worlds try to replicate this experience, and sometimes come close, it’s still no substitute for connecting in person. And that in whatever ways tweeting is similar to conversation, it’s just not the same thing.
What Twitter Is and Isn’t (For Me)
Twitter—a useful communication platform to share and receive links, news, facts, and quotes—a way to listen in real-time, identify trends, network, announce, promote, acquaint, inform, stay loosely in touch with those who have opted in with us (especially through direct replies), and to answer or ask the most straightforward questions. Yes, Twitter is quite valuable in all these ways. But anyone who tells you Twitter is all about conversation, is speaking of the exception to the rule—more often with a very narrow view of conversation, or well, a lot of times, just trying to sell you something. At its best, Twitter points to, or can start a conversation, which invariably leads to somewhere else (for example, the give-and-take of blog commenting, or group discussions on LinkedIn, or interacting on Facebook…These are much more like my idea of conversation.) But Twitter sound-bytes, as genuine conversation? No.