Discover more from Finding Words in Hard Times - with Jon Swanson
038 - On sharing context
Welcome back (Or welcome!)
We’re taking a break at the lake while you read this, up near Whitefish Point in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
We’ve come up here several times together. Nancy came up often as a child to visit family in Paradise. I’m not sure when we decided that it would be a thing for us to do. But in the last decade, we’re staying for our third time in this cabin, we stayed in another cabin once, we stayed in St Ignace a couple times.
We aren’t great at disconnecting, but this is place where we connect.
Adding context to our conversation
I’m mentioning the place because it may become a point of context between you and me.
That’s what we look for often. Points of shared context.
Some experience or location in common that gives us a context for our conversation, that says “We’ve been in the same spaces!”
Recently I was in an ICU room where the family had laid an Iowa sweatshirt on their intubated loved one and everyone else was wearing something from Iowa. (Of course, it wasn’t Iowa. I just picked that so you wouldn’t start talking about the University it was.) We talked. I talked with God. About the patient, about the family, about the staff.
As I was preparing to walk out of the room, church came up. (It’s not the first thing I ask. And often, I don’t.) It turned out that I knew people at both churches named. It gave a point of context for what had come before.
Because that’s how we are. We story. We look for connections and we story.
Sometimes it’s not helpful, of course.
When we always add our story to whatever someone else says, so we can show that we’ve been through worse things? Not helpful.
When our storytelling takes over every conversation? Not helpful.
When we tell the last story in every conversation? Not helpful.
When proving our knowledge becomes more important listening for their heart? Not helpful.
But sometimes, when we can show we know the town someone is talking about so they can relax a little and tell stories about Jersey Mud ice cream sundaes (Cedarville, MI) or where the chaplaincy office used to be or how quiet Holy Name Cathedral is (Nancy and I in the days before we knew each other.)
Knowing that someone knows where we’re from and has seen what we’ve seen is a way to find helpful words.
Sometimes we need help sorting through a year.
Christmas is coming. In the church calendar, the season before Christmas isn’t Thanksgiving, it’s Advent. A time of anticipation and reflection.
I’ve written three small books for the advent season. The one most helpful for this newsletter is Giving the Year Meaning: A Healing Journal for Advent. It’s a guided journal for reflecting on the year.
Every day starting November 28, I’ll invite you to think about a bit of your year and then write a sentence or a list or more.
There’s no secret here. You can read each of the days ahead of time. But it can be clarifying to have a friend invite us to think about losses or gains, about hurts or healings, about helping other people and ourselves. You won’t have to write much, maybe just a word or two. You won’t have to do much, just think about a conversation or two. But you’ll be more prepared for Christmas than usual.
Here’s what others have said:
This is a great Advent resource if you have had a loss or a traumatic event this year. I recommend this to hospice nurses to have available for families and pastors to have available for parishioners. Amazon review of the 2021 edition
“If we ever needed to take a moment before starting another year, this is it. And this little journal is going to be a big help. It’s not just a read and nod thing. It’s a get your pen and make notes workspace. … I’m not a church person, but the Christian parts of this are fine for me. It’s definitely not preachy. If you need some headspace to finish out the year, it’s worth it.” Amazon review of the 2020 edition
And here’s a sample:
These days, we think a lot about what's not working, about what's not turning out the way we planned.
But today, thinking through the last few months, what’s one thing you’ve been involved in that turned out better than you expected? Not in the country or in the world, but in your life.
It could be that you planted seeds, and they grew. It could be that you had a conversation, and it went well. (Maybe there was more than one.) It could be that you made it through the year when you weren't sure how you would make it.
What turned out better than expected?
If this sounds helpful, I’d love for you to check out Giving the Year Meaning: A Healing Journal for Advent.
And now I’m going back to the lake.
See you next week.
Jon (and Nancy)