“What do you do to recharge?” a friend asked me at a minor league baseball game last week. “Is it conversation? Or reading? Observation? Being alone?”
“It usually starts with being alone where I can observe,” I said. “Road trips by myself are probably best. If I can’t do that, then sitting in silence is helpful. So are reading and certain television programs. But not conversation.”
It’s not that I don’t enjoy conversation — especially with people I know and trust. In fact, I often crave it. But it doesn’t help me recharge. It takes a toll, zapping my energy. And afterward, my mind races, wondering if I said everything I needed to say.
That probably makes me a classic introvert. I used to feel guilty about pulling away, knowing it probably makes me appear to be anti-social. But at my age, I have stopped apologizing.
Everybody recharges differently. You have to know what works for you, then follow through. But given that even Jesus needed to pull away from crowds on multiple occasions, I have a hard time believing the rest of us don’t require the same thing — at least every once in a while.
On my way to meet a friend to see a movie on Tuesday night, I stopped at a red light and glanced at the Nebraska license plate on the car in front of me. It listed two years on the bottom (1867 and 2017) in celebration of Nebraska’s sesquicentennial anniversary.
I don’t know why this particular set of plates prompted such thoughts — especially since I have the same plates on my car — but seeing those dates on this particular occasion caused me to realize I won’t be here for the state’s bicentennial anniversary celebration. Life is but a mist, the Bible says. As such, it’s worth paying attention to milestones.
Birthdays, anniversaries, promotions, retirements, reunions—they all mean something. They mean we’ve made it another year, worked through difficult times, earned a new position, worked as long as we needed to, or chosen to gather with old school friends to remember how things used to be.
We tend not to remember ordinary days — the days when we worked all day, came home, ate dinner, watched a little TV, read a chapter or two, then fell asleep.
As the car in front of me turned left, I couldn’t help but think we need to remember more milestones — even the hard ones. More importantly, maybe we should look for reasons to celebrate other people’s milestones.
A friend and his wife once took me out to dinner to celebrate a financial milestone in my life. The fact that they cared enough to do so has stuck with me.
Many years ago, a friend bought a refrigerator magnet for me, saying it was for my new apartment. I still have it (the magnet, not the apartment), even though I’ve moved twice since then.
Knowing how much these gestures have meant to me, I try to do the same thing for others. I’m not always great about sending cards, but I do try to acknowledge events that mean something to the people I do life with.
I have a friend who had a cat named Kramer. Kramer died on May 5 one year after a short battle with an illness. I put that date on my calendar and try to text my friend every year to say I remember.
Kramer was a giant cat with a gentle spirit. And while I can’t say it with any certainty, I suspect my friend chose the mild-mannered Kramer due, in part, in response to a previous cat he owned named Cringer the Battlecat. Battlecat should tell you everything you need to know.
I hated to see Kramer go. But maybe talking about him every once in a while means something to my friend.
My calendar now contains numerous other milestones of family and friends.
A couple I used to live next door to lost their adult son to suicide in 2008. That anniversary date is coming up next week and I plan to call them to tell them I remember.
November 10 is a friend’s spiritual birthday. I try to text him every year on that date. It’s a good way to catch up if we haven’t spoken for a while.
And I’m at the age when many of my friends have already lost one or both parents, so those dates are on my calendar, too.
The first definition of the word “milestone” is “stone post at [the] side of a road to show distances.” As humans, we need to acknowledge the distances that the people around us have traveled. Yes, we mostly travel our journeys alone, but when someone cheers us as we cross a finish line, it makes a difference.
Something struck me this week as I read about the trip that Jesus took with his disciples on foot from Bethsaida (near the Sea of Galilee) where he healed a blind man to the villages of Caesarea Philippi (Mark 8:27-30).
He took the opportunity to ask his disciples who people said he was and they offered various answers: John the Baptist, Elijah, one of the prophets. Then he went deeper. “Who do you say that I am?”
Peter, who was usually quick to speak, spoke up and answered correctly. “You are the Christ.”
What struck me about this was the fact that it took place on a road trip that would’ve been maybe 25 miles long. If they were walking at a leisurely pace of say 2.5 miles per hour, it would’ve taken them ten hours to reach their destination, giving them plenty of time to talk.
Something about being shoulder to shoulder with somebody with a long stretch of road in front of you makes it easy to go deep in conversation.
Maybe it’s because you don’t have to look the other person in the eye. Maybe it’s the lack of distractions. Or maybe it’s the rush of freedom from routines that relaxes us enough to have meaningful conversations with one another.
This has certainly been my experience.
A friend and I used to listen to sermons in the car on 200-mile car trips we took to a baseball stadium. That always led to great spiritual conversations afterward.
Several years ago, a friend invited me to a college baseball game after church. We jumped into his vehicle and had a spiritual conversation. I can’t remember what we spoke about. I only remember that afterward, I wondered if maybe I’d been a little too real since his son and one of this friends were with us and heard what we said.
“Not at all,” he said. “I want my sons to hear conversations like this.” In fact, he said, it’s one of the reasons he goes to such events.
A little over a year ago, a friend moved from a small town in central Nebraska to my city on the eastern side of the state and he needed to go back one last time to close his bank account and handle a couple of other things. I jumped at the chance to go with him that Saturday morning, nearly inviting myself. Okay, inviting myself. But it, too, led to a spiritual conversation.
Maybe we should be a little more intentional about planning trips with people—or at the very least, taking advantage of them when the opportunities arise.
In Lauren Graham’s memoir Talking As Fast As I Can, she writes about how she created a character she named Old Lady Jackson when she realized she was giving grandmotherly advice to some of her much younger co-stars on the Parenthood set.
At one point in the book, Old Lady Jackson chimes in about how we are missing what’s right in front of us because we are so addicted to our phones.
“If absolutely everything important is only happening on such a small screen, isn’t that a shame?” she writes in her Old Lady Jackson voice. “Especially when the world is so overwhelmingly large and surprising? Are you missing too much?”
She continues, “Will you do me a small favor, dears, and look up? Especially you New Yorkers and Londoners and other city dwellers who cross all those busy streets? How else will you take in the majesty of the buildings that have stood there for hundreds of years? How else will you run into an acquaintance on the street who might turn into a friend or a lover or even just recommend a good restaurant that no one has complained about on that app yet? If you never look out the window of the subway car, how will you see the boats gliding by on the East River, or have an idea that only you could have?”
You can read a bigger excerpt here. But you’ve probably already got the gist. If you have a smart phone, you are probably guilty of not looking up frequently enough.
I certainly am.
You know how some people keep a gratitude journal? They jot down three or five things they are thankful for in any given day. What if we were to retrain our brains by jotting down three to five things we noticed each day by looking up?
I have a family who lives next door to me who planted red, yellow, and pink flowers in their back yard. I really don’t know what kind of flowers they are they are, but they look like roses to me, so let’s go with that. In the past week, I’ve taken the time to look out my window and just stare at the flowers. They are beautiful and calming, and I have no idea how long they’ve been there.
This coming week, I’m resolving to look up more often. How about you?
Even though I moved seven months ago, I'm still unpacking boxes. A couple of weekends ago, I came across several letters my dad had written to me. And you know what comes next.
I got lost in them, reading information and advice he wanted to share with me in 1984 and ‘85. We lived hundreds of miles from each other most of my life, but he took time to clip newspaper articles about things I cared about and send them to me in his letters.
In these three letters, he sent me articles about Nebraska football coach Tom Osborne (little did he know that I'd interview him one day) and about Elvis because I was a fan of both. Dad dropped in tidbits of advice or observations to go with the stories as he underlined sections. One such tidbit was to listen to both sides of every story.
In these letters, he also offered me advice about my girl troubles. He suspected that the girl I was interested in was playing games with me. I won’t share his advice, but I got a chuckle out of it all these years later.
And he was always checking on my car, asking if I was keeping up on the maintenance.
Seeing his distinct handwriting a couple of weekends ago was both a thrill and heartbreaking (he passed away in 2000). But I’m so thankful he left his love for me on the page so I can still feel it some thirty-five years later.
It probably sounds like I’m going to reminisce about old letters today, but I’m not doing that as much as I'm thinking about the depths we used to plumb when writing letters was the common means of long-distance communication.
Something about the informality and immediacy of being able to write somebody an email or text today seems to lead us to think we can dash off a couple of sentences now and always go deeper later.
Later never seems to happen, though, does it?
Letter writing used to be an activity for which I’d set aside time. It was an event, and I looked forward to it. Maybe you did, too. But writing email doesn't have the same feel, so we don't treat it the same way. That's my theory, at least.
Exceptions do exist. Every Friday, I hear from a number of you who willingly share snippets of your life with me after you've read this newsletter. You make it feel like a return to letter writing.
The funny thing is, authors are often driven to write books because they want to connect with people on a deep level. I certainly hope to do so with the readers of my books. But it doesn't replace corresponding with readers one-on-one. That’s what makes this newsletter so special to me.
I think it’s also reawakened my interest in going deeper via email with other people I know. In fact, as soon as I had that thought, I realized I really want to email someone and offer her some encouragement over something she's going through.
How about you? Is there someone in your life who needs some encouragement that you can touch base with via email this weekend? Make it an event.