A young woman approached me as I fiddled with stacks of books at my vendor table before the Magnify Women’s Conference at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oakdale. Her hair was a deep shade of pink, curled and full of personality. As she approached me there was that look of familiarity in her eyes. We knew each other, but I did not know from where or when.
She asked if I used to volunteer with the high school youth group at St. Stanislaus in Modesto. I did.
“I’m Genesis,” she said. And I knew her immediately. I remembered her when so many, many memories or names or faces from those days almost twenty years ago have begun to blur together and fade. I remembered her.
She was the type of sixteen-year-old with an old soul, a penchant for deep thoughts, the kind who sees beyond the present circumstances and wonders about the big things of life. She was a poet. Whether or not she wrote any of the words down, I recognized in her that we were kindred spirits, only one doesn’t say that in small talk.
She told me what my presence and our conversations meant to her in those days, that it made a difference.
It made a difference.
Yesterday I listened as a priest described my work as a mother as a bridge. The work of motherhood is to make our children, not the persons we want them to be, but the persons they are meant to become. We are the bridge to help them get there.
A group of mothers sat around with stacks of books beside us for an informal gathering of book club members to share what we were reading. The conversation veered, as it naturally does with women, with decades-old friendships and no formal program. We talked about age differences in friendships now that we are old, how little recognizable those differences are outside of youth and how valuable they are.
- One friend brings meals whenever a new baby comes along or has an illness or a period of grief.
- Friends of different life stages can be there for each other in ways not otherwise possible.
- The woman whose children are grown knows how to cook for a crowd, but does not have a crowd to cook for, so she delivers a party-size lasagna to the new mom.
- The woman with a large brood hardly notices one more child added to the mix, but for the only child, the playdates are everything.
- The single, unmarried woman steps in, refreshed from sleeping uninterrupted, to give an extra dose of attention to the children who may not have aunties nearby.
- Children learn to lead from the old children in the group. Younger children attach to that ten-year-old with a mysterious love for toddlers and babies.
- Pre-teen girls learn the art of babysitting when the parents want to chat, training them for the day when they earn their bread with an hourly wage.
Mentors, teachers, and parents come in all ages, all occasions, all types of communities.
But they only come when we approach our days with that good advice I heard as a child, “try to learn at least one thing from every person you meet” and then find ways to generously and prudently share the lessons we ourselves learned.
How do we know when to share and when to keep it to ourselves?
First, by being who are you in all your authenticity.
It doesn’t mean presenting an autobiography to every person you meet, but perhaps, sharing a little more in a unique way. If someone asks about your weekend plans, include the specific hobby or the garden weeding or the trip you’re taking plus one or two details. This little bit of openness invites more questions if the other person has them.
Second, by asking others those small talk questions and really listening to the answer.
“How are you?”
“Any weekend plans?”
“What have you been up to?”
Then, and this is the trick, as a follow-up question.
“Where do you usually go fishing?”
“What type of plants do you grow?”
“Have you read any other books by that author?”
Taking the time to learn from others and open ourselves up to being asked a few questions is how we begin to build that bridge. The person with whom we are speaking may have always dreamed of that profession or that hobby but never known anyone who actually did it. You clear the way with your openness.