When a close friend and I spent the day together last Sunday, we ended up meeting a truly remarkable family and having an amazing connection with them. Fortunately for me, my life is filled with spontaneous, great connections all the time, however, something about this one has been having me think about what I mean when I say I “connect” with another. And has me wanting to clarify what it is that leads to this connection—what makes this difference?
My friend and I started the day sitting on a picnic bench having lunch at an organic bakery in Marin. Just before we were about to leave, a dad, his two kids and his mother came up and asked if they could sit at our table. Being the wise ass I am, I replied, “Sure. But know the last people who sat here were not the same when they left.” Hearing this, a knowing smile came over the man’s face, and he and his family sat down with us.
I asked the grandmother about herself, and before she could answer, the 11-year old daughter leaned forward, as if we had known each other for years: “She is 97 years old and is a Holocaust survivor.” My friend and I were both struck at the ease and unpretentious self-authorship with which this beautiful young girl completed her grandmother’s sentence for her…as well as being unfazed by her grandmother’s plea for appropriateness, as if knowingly cutting through and revealing her grandma’s desire to share her amazing life with us.
Sparing many details, we proceeded to find out the grandmother wrote a book at age 90 about her life story as a holocaust Survivor and had just completed her second book, “Miracle After Miracle After 90.” The father, a builder, achieved the impossible accomplishment of building something like 1000 buildings in less than a year in a city in conflict with itself and against him. He told me he had to “transform the city” through putting his entire staff through a year-long training in “what you do” (transformation / communication / Circling etc…), and following Jack Kornfield’s personal instructions to him that he meditate two hours every day and include the whole city as “the one meditating.” He shared what it was like watching the whole city healing through his project. The whole time this amazing little girl included her self in the conversation (on breaks from chasing her sister around the restaurant), and shared things like “I consider myself mostly a dancer and only secondarily an actor,” as if innocently unaware that her self-authoring comments were completely striking in their matter-of-factness.
Now all that’s amazing and inspiring in itself, however, what made them amazing to me was the quality with which they related with us. They generously leaned in with a kind of proactive receptivity. When they were talking “about” their lives, they did so in a way that revealed who they were, as if open to be changed by us. This generosity my friend and I found ourselves in seemed to call forth sharing ourselves in very much the same way, creating a growing relational feedback loop. As the conversation deepened, the implicit connection we were enjoying became more explicit and spoken. In a very real way we were in fact changed, and all walked away more ourselves, expanded, enriched and grateful to be alive. My friend and I went on to have a remarkable day.
It seems to me that a big part of deeply connecting with another has to do with a particular kind of generosity. Not the generosity of, “I’m giving something to you,” but rather, being generous “in my openness to being changed by you.” Perhaps the greatest gift we can offer is being open to being altered through enjoying the living shit out of each other…