How Preconception can Hinder Connection.
I’m at the counter at the supermarket having gone in for milk and then having bought enough grub to survive the apocalypse. As I finish loading my bounty onto the conveyer belt the lady sitting at the till asks me,
‘Have you bought your own bags?’
Shame fills my heart as I have to solemnly admit that no, I haven’t and yes, I am a bad person. I envisage my very eco, hemp veggie bag sitting on the deck looking bereft and empty. The lady actually sighs and looks at me with a disappointed stare as if I’m solely responsible for the death of the last white Rhino. I feel like letting loose on her and shouting,
‘You’re lucky I’m wearing pants after the amount of crap I’ve had to organise since being rudely awaken by a crying baby at 4.30am this morning! An ozone layer, rhino friendly shopping bag was not at the top of my list!’
But, of course, I hold back, and give her a strained smile. But, just as she her face softens and she is preparing to forgive me, I forget my pin code. I have to put back everything I came in for and pay $50 in cash for some random items I don’t even need. It takes ages, people are tutting and mumbling. I’m getting agitated and my cheeks are red with embarresment . By the time I walk under the aircon that pumps cool air over the exit, I feel like I might just burst into tears.
I shove the trolley out in front and then clumsily lift it down a high curb, the wheels are working against me and it feel like it might tip over. I'm parked bloody miles away and have to heave three heavy shopping bags out of the trolley and lug them in the direction of my vehicle. Carrying shopping is not my best look. I walk like a languid gibbon, swaying from side to side, the load pulling my shoulders towards the concrete. The handles of the bag have gathered together so tightly with the weight of the food, that the plastic is cutting into my hands like a razor blades. Just as I'm thinking,
'Why the fuck did I buy a watermelon?' I feel a big droplet of rain land on the end of my nose.
I then hear the sound of the downpour as it slams the warm road ahead, the smell reminds me of being called inside before a storm as a kid, laughing with my sister as we ran through long wet grass towards my mum standing on the doorstep. I get lost in thought as the skies open and rain soaks my clothes.
I try and move at a quicker pace, but my bags are so hefty. So, I stop, I scan the area for a dry spot and then run for shelter under a big tree on the other side of the road. I put the bags down onto the little dry patch and shake out my aching hands. The rain is loud and heavy around me. I look up to see a man running towards me holding a newspaper over his head. There is something so English about this moment that it makes me beam at him, he smiles back, shakes the water off the newspaper and finds a dry spot next to me.
‘We needed a bit of rain’ he says,
‘Yes, the garden was looking really thirsty’ I smile.
We stand there, together in the rain, watching heavy drips slide off the leaves of the big tree. We can both see that it’s not going to pass soon, so, we settle in. He unfolds his paper on the grass and sits on top and I stand with my shopping at my feet, enjoying this perfect moment.
We’re there for 15 minutes. Him, me and the tree.
Even though we don’t say anything else, I feel a connection to him, a sentiment of ‘we’re in this together’, like we’re friends somehow. Our random, silent association feels so innocent and old fashioned. An unintended circumstance where two humans, that have never met, politely interact. It’s refreshing that we can be there together with nothing but the sound of the rain falling on to the pavement.
No phones, no chit chat, no expectations. Just two people sheltering under a tree.
After a while, the din lessens, the rain slows the sky lightens up. He turns to me and raises his eyebrows, gives me a look as if to say,
‘Shall we make a run for it’
He runs off, long legs making the dash to his car look swift compared to my ape like swagger.
I press the little button on my car keys that opens the boot before I get there, it pops up and shove the bags in next to the pram and slam it shut. The windscreen is all steamed up when I get inside and I pull my sleeve up my palm to try and wipe it clear. As I pull out of the space is see the man in his car, he looks up and waves at me. I give him a thumbs up, signalling that ‘We made it!’ and I drive home.
I dump the shopping bags on the counter and before unpacking, I put the kettle on and with my thumb resting on the little switch, I think about the man under the tree, and our brief connection. Our moment of being up against the elements, together.
I knew nothing about him and nor him of me, so, in that little moment - we were both perfect.
He didn’t know my struggles, my past, my sadness or my worries and I, in turn,knew nothing of him, what he did, who he was, how he felt. All we shared was the purity of the rain lashing around us. The simplicity of sheltering from the wet. The wholesome unfussiness of the moment had created magic.
What was it? and where could I find more of that? I wondered.
In my day-to-day life I often feel like people know me too well, therefore they have needs of me, demands and hopes. I put pressure on myself to be a certain way, be who they want, and fulfil the role I have carved out - a good mum, a good wife, a good friend.
But what if we put all that aside, ditched preconceptions and expectations for a second, forsake our roles and became like strangers standing under a tree in the rain? What if we met with no forethought, just with the unassuming notion of spending time together.
Would all our anxieties diminish if our preconceived ideas of how we ‘should’ be were faded out by the noise of the rain? If so, would it be possible that friendships and relationships wouldn’t be showered in needs, wants and disappointments?.
We could start over, all of us, the beginning of each social event being the turning of a new leaf. Without disagreements from the past shadowing our interactions, we could stop being ‘the middle child’ or the ‘supportive friend’ or the ‘attention seeker’ after all, we are only those things for a small percentage of our lives, yet we carry them to every meeting like they represent our entirety.
The thought of living in this merciful utopia lifts a weight from me, like someone has come up behind me and taken the shopping bags from my hands.
I, like all humans, am a ball of emotions, reactions and experiences. I am what I have seen and felt, yet if I were able to shake off my ‘me being me’ if I unblocked myself, released my preconceived ideas of myself and others, would my connections be more meaningful, more natural?
I go into the bathroom and grab a towel and rub my wet hair. I look in the mirror, I look like a half-drowned Yorkshire Terrier with my hair stuck to my cheeks. I stare at myself and think about my meeting. How lovely it was to share a quietness with a stranger, how being unaware of each other’s histories handed us something uncontaminated. I felt a sudden need to bring that feeling into my everyday life and relationships. A desire to leave my presumptions of people, well, out in the rain.
It’s funny how giving up drinking allows me to see and feel the spaces between myself and other people. I suppose that’s the gap I was filling with alcohol, the void between me and a true connection with the world.
Now, I get to sit in that void and appreciate its tranquillity, absorb its unquestioning tenderness. Sobriety for me means I get to experience those spaces rather than fill them with laughter and chaos. I allow the quietness. Enjoy the silence. There is a simple perfection in stillness and not having to impress, it’s a place where I would like to spend more time, a place where I feel content, and free.
Just him, me and the tree. In that perfect silence I had no desire to talk, I had no-one to impress. Our assumptions of each other were immaterial, washed down the drain along with leaves and dirt. There was no need to make our minds up what we thought about each other, our opinions meant nothing. Our only exchange was caring and polite. About the weather. Nothing more, nothing less.
That moment represented one thing, we really are all in this together, we really are just like strangers standing in the rain waiting for the storm to pass, hoping for better days, hoping for sun.
Perhaps when I was a drinker my need to fill the silence meant I hindered real connection and my preconceived ideas of people meant I missed out on more meaningful interactions?
Drinking caused a dark cloud bursting with self doubt and anxiety to hover above my head for far too long.in fact the only real connections I made during my drinking days were with the lady at the chemist that sold me the morning after pill and the taxi driver that pulled over and let me be sick. Drinking therefore obscured the light.
Sober was the light.
Gosh, I realise, I’ve missed out on so much, my drinking meant I stayed stagnant, un-evolving as I waited for a break in the weather. But, I've changed so at least now I have a chance to reconnect.
I hear the low rumble of the kettle boiling in the kitchen. I plop a tea bag in the biggest mug I can find and nestle into the cosy corner of the couch. I have 5 minutes of just sitting, quietly, before I hear the latch click open on the front gate. The kids rush in the house, it’s like a stampede of elephants in wellington boots. They all talk at once, telling me about their day, how they jumped in puddles at the park and saw an eel in the river. I tell them that I got caught in the rain with a stranger under a tree,
‘That must have been awful mummy’ my daughter says with a concerned expression.
‘No darling’ I say as I hang her raincoat on the peg,
‘It wasn’t’ awful at all. It was wonderful.’