On the Coast – Families (August2020)

In the age of coronavirus, as we evolve into a new normal of social distancing and limited physical contact and with the opportunities for gatherings restricted, one of the by-products has been a renewed appreciation for the subtle intimacies of life. We are re-finding the simple pleasures, one of which is, the joy and comfort of a good conversation, aided by the additional technology of Zoom and FaceTime.

There is nothing more delicious than a deep conversation. A good conversation that rollicks along effortlessly and can dive deep into the profound, and in the next breath, captures the ridiculous, can keeps us in a sustain afterglow and forge lifelong bonds.

Many years ago when my boys were quite young, my mum bought us a very simple card game called The Art of Conversation (TAOC). It consists of a double deck of playing cards that have just two questions or conversation starters and we go round in a circle and ask them to each other. The aim of the game is to cultivate the skills of conversation, asking questions, listening to the answers and seeing if you can think up another question based on the answer given.

Some questions are fun and light and quick to answer and some questions are amazingly deep and poignant and kick-start longer, deeper and more thoughtful discussion. And often the answers can be revealing, beautiful and surprising.

From my diary writings at the time, this is what I wrote of our experiences at the time:

As an example, a random pick back through notes, this is a question my young son had to answer: #45 Which musical instrument do you, or would you like to play?  Answer: Drums (oh no you hear me groan).  #46 How can you help make another person’s life happier? Answer: Be their friend, be kind to them and have fun with them. Tell them you love them. This answer from my 6 year old brought tears to my eyes.

And for my 9 year old the next card held these little beauties: #23 When is it hard to be patient? Answer:  When I’m hungry.  And #24 What is the biggest problem in the world? Answer: Global Warming. And that led to an in-depth conversation about the planet and the state of the world!

We used to play this game at least twice a week, usually during dinner and could sustain the activity with our boys for about an hour. When friends or family joined us for a meal, our boys would suggest a game of TAOC and the results and richness of the conversation never ceased to amaze and delight.

This small card game transformed not only dinnertime but our relationship with the kids.  We got insights into who they were and their dreams and thoughts and it also increased their appreciation and understanding of my husband and I too.  We are revealed as more than just parents but adults with a history of experience and our own dreams and hopes, and felt an expansion of love and compassion as we came to know and understand each other as whole, real people.

I am pleased to say, when you catch them in the right moment, my boys, who are now 17 and 20, can sustain quite good conversation and through COVID we dusted off the adult version of the game, which over the years we had progressed to, and it was most enlightening. And as a family we still interact with a good deal of candidness, humour and depth.

It made me think about the conversations we have with our friends and families.  How deep do our core friendships actually go? How well do we know our peers and how well do they know us? So often the public face that we present to the outside world is a very thin veneer of the real us? How often do we even reflect on who the real “us’ is and then how often do we then share that with others? Do we make the effort to really connect – to enquire about and share our thoughts, dreams, concerns and needs?

In this time of COVID-19, when we have been stripped back to simplicities, the yearning to keep things real and natural in our interactions is a time of great opportunity for our relationships to deepen and grow.

It takes courage to live authentically – to have a strong congruence between thoughts, feelings and actions. To strip back the carefully built facades we all create and reveal ourselves – our weaknesses, our dreams and hopes, our fears – means that we can leave ourselves open for rejection or ridicule.  Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring the walls tumbling down and force us to interact on a deeper level. Sometimes this can be a way to foster a stronger and deeper bond with people.

Sometimes, if the gulf between what is real and what has been superficial is too vast, the foundations of a relationship or friendship have nothing left to sustain it. More often than not however, being true to yourself, and in your interactions with others, opens a path for understanding.  It unites people in our common humanity which ultimately is the foundation for compassion and love.

In my work as a celebrant and therapist I am regularly immersed in conversations that go to the heart of deep and profound issues – love, children, family, and death. These conversations are revealing and tender and authentic.  They are about the big things that we hold dear in our hearts. These conversations continually remind me that every person has a story and there is no such thing as an ordinary life – we all have our dramas, traumas, wonders and journeys that we travel.

Imagine if we all start to play the art of conversation with our loved ones and dear friends – really take the conversation to a deeper level of sharing and learning.  Imagine how much we could learn about ourselves and each other. Imagine how liberating it could be to feel safe and comfortable to express the real authentic self to each other.  The benefits of playing the art of conversation in our everyday life is not only learning about others, but learning about yourself.  It can promote a healthy practice of self reflection. Know yourself. Accept yourself. Be yourself. And share this with others.

Sarah Tolmie assists people to celebrate, navigate, grow and heal through all their life & love transitions. Her practice focuses on love & relationships, families & children; life success & fulfilment, illness, death & grief. As an Holistic Celebrant Sarah creates profound and meaningful ceremonies for all life & love events. Sarah is also a Marriage Therapist, Bespoke Funeral Director and End-of-Life Consultant. You can visit her website www.sarahtolmie.com.au  and Facebook page at Sarah Tolmie – Life & Love.