Wednesday was difficult. Teri from Bo of the Bales, Jennifer of Wonderfully Ill Composed and I had agreed to meet at a used bookstore in a town we were all going to be near this week. Jennifer was once one of Great Scott’s students, and we’re familiar enough for me to be totally relaxed around her, but Teri I had never met in person before. It’s difficult meeting new people. You want to make a good impression on them. You want them to make a good impression on you. You want everyone to be peachy-keen and cozy right from the start. You are an INFP harmony seeker of the very worst sort. You set yourself up.
The couple of hours the three of us spent browsing a used bookstore and over lunch were pleasant. We talked about Jennifer’s upcoming trip to London, Teri’s kids, our literary tastes and distastes and tried happily without success for the most part, to find people we might know in common, growing up as we all have within the same general area. Jennifer seemed pretty much at ease, and Teri was bright and encouraging, an excellent conversationalist. I, on the other hand, couldn’t string four words together without my thoughts either getting muddled or losing the order in which I’d intended them to come out. I wasn’t feeling shy. I wasn’t even particularly nervous or antsy. The words just jammed if someone asked me a question. It wasn’t a new phenomenon, and although I apologized to Teri and blamed it on introversion’s need to process internally before speaking into the external world, I realized later more than that was going on. It had happened that morning while visiting with my grandmother. It happened later that afternoon when Jennifer and I ran by Great Scott’s classroom to take him chocolate. My brain was simply shorting out.
This happens occasionally, especially when seasonal mood swings set in. Low-level depression saps mental energy even more than physical, and the brain becomes easily muddled. I begin needing lists to go to the store. Lists for two items. Lists for one item. Lists for one item that I have to concentrate to remember in order to write it down. Plural: lists (I’ll lose just one), lists I triple check at the store and sometimes still don’t manage to bring home everything (both things). In this mode it takes me forever to cook a meal, because I forget what I’m fixing or how to fix it. It is not unusual for me to find myself standing bewildered in the middle of the kitchen holding an onion on one hand and a can opener in the other with no idea of how to open the onion or what to do with it once it’s open. This is what happened Wednesday. Trust befuddlement to strike at the same time as the ridiculous urge to make a good impression.
“It’s ok, Hon,” Scott comforted me when I told him about my awkwardness and Teri’s very sincere and very obvious patience and kindness. “Jennifer understands, and Teri probably just thinks you’re a socially inept genius. People think that about your dad all the time.” I overlooked the potential, playful insult to my relational skills and decided to take the double compliment instead: a genius and like my father. Being compared to Dad is a consolation any day, and Scott had been far too sweet in his delivery to be baiting me. Besides, I really had no energy for a comeback.
I went to bed early that night, then sat up after all, reading Kay Redfield Jamison’s Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, a book I’d long coveted and had found that day in the bookstore. Probably not the best choice of reading material given my condition, but it was helpful in a way, reestablishing for me the fact that the fogginess and dimming of the inner countries come and go without apparent rhyme or reason for some of us, and that when they do, what matters isn’t that one stumbled one’s way through a social situation with all the grace of an intoxicated elephant. What matters, indeed, is one’s willingness to continue stumbling and the grace and kindness with which those stumbles are received.
So, Teri and Jennifer, I thank you for Wednesday’s grace: your good company, your forbearance, your wit and your brightness. I’m grateful, and I'm chalking that grace up in my gifts and blessings column instead of lumping my own bumblings into the failures column. Lunch and the bookstore browse were fun. You are both most wonderfully enjoyable companions, and I gladly join Jane Kenyon in her oft repeated assertion of appreciation, “What clever friends I have. What clever friends I have!”*
[*Kenyon’s quote from Alice Mattison’s essay, “Let it Grow in the Dark Like a Mushroom” as published in the book Bright Unequivocal Eye: Poems, Papers and Remembrances from the First Jane Kenyon Conference, edited by Bert G. Hornback.]