“I’m being avoided,” Shannon tells me over the phone. “No one will make eye contact and, at tea time, a big moat opened around me as people swerved to dodge me.” He’s phoning from a “top 50”, leadership meeting at work. These are the top 50 leaders on the continent that this organisation has to offer and they can’t bring themselves to make eye contact.
They aren’t alone.
I had the same thing this week when I took Chris to a routine appointment. The person we were meeting wouldn’t make eye contact and when I asked him how he was doing he hid behind a surgical mask to avoid having to reply.
The following day, though, I delivered something to Joshua’s school and ran into one of his classmates.
“How are you doing?” Josh’s friend asked looking deep into my eyes. I blinked back tears. Who needs their dead-friend’s mother crying all over them? Except that I think she actually wanted to know the answer.
“Well, it was a month a few days ago, I’m just putting one foot in front of the other,” I replied. She nodded at the mention of a month passed. “How are you doing?”
“I’m okay, I guess. I have a test today and assignments that are due.” She squared her shoulders. “I’m keeping going.” Her glance suggested that she wasn’t 100% sure if keeping going was okay. It is. We hugged and, as the bell rang, she hurried off to her next class.
The girl is fifteen. She put a room full of top leaders to shame.
When I was fifteen a friend lost her mother to cancer. I didn’t have the words to express my own shock and fear, let alone to comfort my friend. I let our friendship slide through my fingers at exactly the moment she needed me most. I still flush with shame at the memory.
So why am I telling you this? Certainly not to make Shannon’s colleagues feel bad. I could fill a thousand blogs with my own social bungles and still have stories to tell. Anyway, after the last year, you can rest assured that Shannon is pretty tough. And frankly my own levels of social anxiety are such that a little discourtesy from service providers isn’t going to change anything.
But, throughout Joshua’s illness and his death I have been filled with admiration for his friends. They have shown more courage, grit and compassion than anyone could ask of a group of teenagers.
Well, I thought, they are Joshua’s friends – would I expect anything less? Then I listened to some of the speeches coming from the teenagers in the recent school shooting in Florida. No matter where you stand on gun control you can’t deny the authenticity of their voices.
Josh had outstanding taste in friends, but perhaps it isn’t only his friend selection at play? Is it possible that a new generation is emerging who have voices of courage and compassion that eclipses their parents?
I hope so.
In the first draft of this post I wrote “something is wrong when we have to look to our children to show us how to behave” but on rereading it I think perhaps that something is right. Or at least something right is coming into the world.
I imagine a generation of new young adults emerging who are brave and compassionate and ask, “how are you” with the hope of getting a real answer. I feel a bubble of optimism in the centre of my chest when I think about it.
Gosh, I hope I’m right.
In the meantime though, I promise not to tell adults the truth when they ask me, in passing, how I am.