Saturday, November 3, 2012

Ice Cream

My last post, on the balance of power in the Christian church, was philosophically heavy. My next one, on the medieval writer Lady Julian of Norwich, will also be philosophically heavy. I want to take this post to share something more lighthearted.

Last week was stressful for me: I had a run-in with a few people, taught an extra writing class, received thirty papers to grade, and sat through a few long meetings. Thursday night, I arrived home exhausted from a grading session, pulled out nice things to eat and drink, and crashed in front of the Internet for an hour.

At 9.45 someone pounded on my glass screen door. My first reaction was annoyance: I was just getting ready to move from the table to the couch for the remainder of the evening, and here I had to answer a knock at the door. My neighbour's cable guy sometimes confuses whose sliding glass door is whose and has inadvertently knocked on mine before. I imagined that I was fielding another visit from the confused cable guy and got up to send him around to the neighbours'.

My visitor was not the cable guy.

It was two close friends. They grinned at me from the  dark, their hands cupped in little tents as they leaned against the glass to see inside. I pulled back my safety bar, pulled back the blinds, unlocked the door (yes, my father taught me security) and let them in.

I then saw they carried goodies: a bag filled with three little pints of ice cream. These, they promptly unloaded on my counter and started searching for the spoons. I, on the other hand, was stunned into inaction and speechlessness: I stammered, told them to pull out the spoons they know, and started washing a few leftover dishes (a favourite recourse of mine when confused or placed in an awkward situation) while I repeatedly instructed them to help themselves to whatever items they needed out of my kitchen.

Gracious enough to ignore my confusion, they offered me my choice of ice cream pints (mint chocolate chip vs chocolate chocolate chip - what a choice!) and handed me a spoon. (At this point, my reaction was happiness!) For the next thirty minutes, we all circled about in my kitchen, digging into our respective ice cream pints and sharing the stressful stories from the last week. I shared about my week, then my two friends each took their turn venting about the various troubles and concerns that pile up at this point in the semester. When we put the ice cream, half-melted in their e pint cartons, back into the freezer, someone made tea and we kept talking as we sipped. Not until 11.15 did we look at the clock, decide that Friday was indeed a work day, and say our goodbyes.

When I was still an undergraduate student, a few friends and I met every weekend for tea: Our tea sessions served much the same purpose. We met late at night, brewed tea in electric hot pots, and sat on the hard floor to talk about what had been troubling us and what had been going well. Neither a Haagen-Dazs session nor a tea session actually solved the problems, but ice cream and tea, and particularly friends, absolutely make troubles more bearable.

I think there are two aspects of these experiences that makes them so refreshing (Yep, analysis. I'm an English teacher. I do this.) It's important, first of all, to have someone who will simply listen to your problems - listen, plus nothing. In Christian circles especially, conversation partners sometimes want to say something and not just listen: Perhaps they want to fix your problems, or perhaps they want to help you see the silver lining and be content about your problems. Trouble is, stressed-out people are often not immediately ready to fix their problems or even reach contentment. What stress needs, first of all, is an emotional outlet. Think of stress like electricity: While electricity should be controlled and managed so it can be productive, it needs to be made safe first. Long before the light bulb was created and used regularly, electricity was discovered, made safe and studied by scientists. Problems are like that: Eventually we'll reach a solution and (or?) contentment with that stress, but before that happens, we need to find an outlet for the stress. I have been and am still grateful for the people in my life who've volunteered to be an outlet for my stress, and I try to be an outlet for theirs as well.

It's also important to have people who will encourage and build you up. I think sometimes we formalize "encouragement" too much. Perhaps it's an American thing: We have special "Secret Sister" events around the holidays, meals and gatherings with our church or employer, mentor relationships made through the church or another organization that meet regularly, at least once a week. All of these events are good, but not all encouragement needs to happen through an event. My half-pint of ice cream and four listening ears (two friends) were very encouraging. A colleague at work received an anonymous gift of chocolate, and that also was encouraging. Even the Apostle Paul depended on seemingly-insignificant encouragement: Luke kept him company in Rome, and Timothy brought him a coat towards the end of his imprisonment. Encouragement doesn't need to be a grand, organized event. Sometimes a coat, or a dish of ice cream, or a cup of tea, will do the trick quite nicely.

Liquid Encouragement. Drink with abandon.

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