Saturday, January 12, 2008

church greeter's anxiety

I cannot think of anything to say when I'm talking to people who are super quiet. I'm seldom the person carrying the conversational ball , usually not the talkative one. So when things get really quiet when I'm trying to be friendly and getting no help on the other end of the conversation, I inadvertently go into talk-overdrive... It's really horrible. I start babbling, sweating profusely, and laughing like a cackling hyena. I hear myself and try to stop but it leads to more babblings, sweating and hyena sounds.

Several years ago a couple about 10 years younger than us started going to our church. They were an attractive couple that always stood around during coffee hour smiling. I cannot stand to see people standing around during coffee hour smiling. I mean if they're talking to someone that's okay but if they are standing there just smiling I know it's my job to go and speak to them. So week after week after bloody week I'd put on my babbling, sweating, hyena performance for Bob and Ann. They always smiled so politely as they'd see me walking over. I told Gordon that I was sure they were thinking let's see how loud we can get her to cackling today.

It was really very horrible and it seemed no one could identify with my anxiety. I'd tell people about our conversations - if you could call them that - and how I always said the same thing when we spoke. No one identified. Everyone agreed that I should "just not say it if I didn't want to say it." But it didn't work that way. No matter how hard I tried not to say it, I'd still say it.

Sunday after Sunday, unless one of us was mercifully sick or something, I'd see them standing by the coffee pot smiling. People walked by them smiled and said good morning, but no one would actually engage them. I felt like the weight of their souls somehow rested on me. I'd take a swig of whiskey (just joking) then walk bravely and confidently over to welcome them. "Hi Bob, hi Ann. Have you had a good week?" They'd smile and say, "Yes." I'd think, please say something else, but they always responded the same way. They'd smile and I'd sweat.

Then I'd pull the ole hyena trick and they'd smile. Horror would unfold. Sunday after Sunday I'd say and do the exact same thing. "Do ya'll live around here?" The answer was always the same, go figure. Yes they lived about 5 minutes away. "Oh really where?" Amazingly they didn't move the whole time we went to church together. Every time they answered that they lived in the Inglewood community. "Oh I know someone who lives there, she lives kind of close to the 7-11," I'd tell them. Bob would politely smilingly tell me they lived a bit farther west. Every week I'd say, "Oh you must be closer to the KFC" and amazingly every week without fail he told me they lived in an apartment block just a block and a half from KFC. Every week I'd act surprised and say, "really, that's pretty close." Then I'd laugh like a hyena.

I would walk away after this unique performance feeling soooo stupid - which was totally legitimate.

Then the most amazing thing happened. A new family started our church and we hit it off and became good friends. The husband reminded me of my brother so I felt such affinity with them. We had lots in common, laughed at the same things, seemed to think the same things at the same time pretty often during service. They were extroverted and soon got really involved in church, and even in greeting and welcoming people. (God knows I was glad to have the help.)

One Sunday afternoon they came over for lunch and after getting comfortable Brian said, "Man have you ever tried to talk to Bob and Ann. They have got to be the quietest people I've ever met. I always feel so stupid when I talk to them. I find myself saying the same stupid thing week after week." Was I ever relieved to find someone who identified with my anxiety.

Brian went on to tell what his conversations with Bob and Ann looked like. Do you live nearby? Oh Inglewood. Do you live near 7-11? Oh yeah I know where the KFC is. Yes, in Brian's nervousness, he asked them the same questions I did, and he even did it on a weekly basis. We compared notes and laughed and laughed so happy to find someone who identified with our feelings of ineptitude. We made fun of ourselves at great length and imagined Bob and Ann's conversations in the car on the way home wondering why we were so interested in where they lived.

After finding someone who identified with my anxiety, I somehow overcame my mental block and was actually able to change my Sunday morning topic with Bob and Ann. Weeks later I felt empowered - not comfortable, just empowered - to invite them for lunch. I made burgers. I didn't know they were vegetarians. Upon learning the vegetarian tidbit, I got terribly nervous and as I brought celery stalks, tomatoes, and carrots to the table I heard myself say, "So where do you live?"



Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is totally hilarious. I relate somewhat..enough to understand how you feel. But
How did this article get between the 1st and the 3rd one? I just saw it this morning. It is utterly hilarious. I KNOW you are exaggerating but I KNOW too how you are feeling about it all. Just remember, other people have a responsibility in a conversation too. If they can't meet it, consider it their problem. Don't try to make it yours. But it DOES make a funny story. Consider this unasked for advice from a mom.
Love you.

January 17, 2008 at 7:58 AM  
Anonymous *mindi* said...

oh valerie, i so rarely laugh out loud when i read funny stuff online, but this really made me laugh so hard.

i bet they think they go to church with a bunch of crazy KFC fanatics.

"there's the people that live near KFC, let's go talk to them!"

did you really feed them celery stalks and carrots? that's just so funny.

January 17, 2008 at 9:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Val, yes, so funny. I like what Mindi said about being KFC fanatics!


January 17, 2008 at 1:10 PM  

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