There was a freedom in listening to mass in Polish today at the funeral of a friend's mother. No need to struggle through the details of what was being said, just enjoy the music of a language that sounded like "showa showa" every few lines, topped off by a gorgeous soprano voice singing Ave Maria and Amazing Grace. I relaxed and let the peace of those moments meld into prayers for the soul of Jadwiga and her family.
Then I went to the luncheon afterward with my mother and daughter and I listened to my friend talk about his mom, their immigration from Poland, their life here in Connecticut, where they lived and worked and how they got by after his father died young.
All really gripping stuff. I didn't catch everything but I know his voice, he speaks relatively slowly and I just asked if there was something I missed, as did my mom ;). These are questions we don't ask each other at picnics or in bleachers, though of course conversations would be more interesting if we did.
Then we moved onto the social conversation over lunch with others at our table and--man, I had no patience for it. The effort I had to expend to understand the cross-currents of conversation, of who worked where, had lived where, had been where, was too much. I tuned out and no one really noticed. I was ready to leave in a hurry.
What if you had to pay $20 to chit chat with people you did not know, and would not ever know, just to be polite. Would you do it?
What if you had to pay $50?
I felt like keeping up with the conversations and contributing something would have cost me the equivalent of about $100 so I smiled, nodded, checked out the dessert table (which provided the excuse to get some cookies out the car, slowly), checked in with my friends at another table, and then parked myself behind my mother so she could field all the random "oh, do you know...?" questions and I could drink black coffee, focusing on the heat on my tongue and the weak bitterness of the brew.
Processing sound is a significant PCS symptom for me, and mentally exhausting. I could have gone home and avoided the luncheon, but I'm really glad I went. I also saw how little anyone else cared whether I spoke or not, nodded or not, listened or not, as long as someone else did (thanks, mom).
I wonder how often I stress myself out doing something that costs me the $100 equivalent of mental effort for nothing concrete in return. No peace from the mass or communing with spirits; no deeper understanding of my friend; no history of Bridgeport I could try to hold onto in case I needed it one day. Just listening to people talk about themselves and comparing themselves to each other. All of them were nice--the woman across from me was downright mischievous--and they intrigued me in a general way, but there would be no relationship with them ever again.
I had to cut bait.
In the stress management of Back in Control, Dr. Hanscom talks about whether having high expectations of yourself adds stress and pressure that worsens symptoms, and while I'm not sure that chit chatting requires high social expectations, I do think it's rude not to join a conversation you're part of.
But was I being rude?
Have I tried all these years to compete and compare and make myself memorable to people who I will rarely--if ever--see again? If so, was doing that fun? Did it help pass the time?
All I know is that using the reprogramming structure of "Is it more important to be seen as polite in this situation or to lessen mental fatigue?" I chose the latter, and no one really seemed to notice.
Then I sat back and listened to the "showa showa" sounds of the Polish conversation around me, and was again at peace.