My dear 89-year-old Aunt Ruth, a wise woman and an elegant lady if there ever was one, has spent her life attracting people. It’s not just because she’s attractive, which she is, but it’s because she has great social skills. She knows how to put people at ease, how to talk to them, and, as I was to find out in our many conversations over the last several decades, how to hide her true feelings.
We became close in my midlife, her sixties. She had lost her daughter to a horrible crime; I had lost my mother to a horrible death from cancer. It wasn’t that Ruth was a replacement mother, or I a replacement daughter. Rather, you could say we became friends with (family) benefits. She is my father’s sister, twelve years his junior–the baby in the family, just as I am. Equally important, she was there–there in my father’s childhood, there when my mother went to summer camp (the girls from both families ironically attended the same one), there when my father and mother dated, there in the early years of my own life, which I can barely remember. I could tell her anything. She also told me her secrets. She reminded me often that what one appears may not accurately reflect who that person is inside. And here she was, this woman whom everyone adored, telling me on more than one occasion that “in the dark of night,” she’d get on “her broomstick.” Then, and only then, did she dare to say what she really thought. No one could hear her. And in the light of day, no one would have guessed.
Reading Barbara Graham’s wonderful contribution to The Buzz—The Other Grandparents–brought to mind Aunt Ruth and her broomstick. We all harbor secrets in our souls–negative opinions and uncharitable feelings that could wound and, possibly, cause irreparable damage to our loved ones. Some people might say it’s phony or duplicitous not to express them. But I don’t think of it that way. Rather, when we keep our mouths shut, we give ourselves a chance to see the situation–or the person–through fresh eyes. Knowing you don’t have to give vent to angry or resentful feelings might just allow other–better–feelings to creep in.
For more on the art of collaborative conversation, read my 3-part series on Shareable.net