I’m sure you know what it’s like to think you’re having a conversation with someone; when in fact all you are doing is listening. I love meeting new people and getting to know them, but it’s only polite that ‘getting-to-know’ people is at least partially bi-directional.
“Too often travel, instead of broadening the mind,
merely lengthens the conversation.”
– Elizabeth Drew
We try to get in at least two walks around a campground each day. I tease my wife that she’s like a pet whom I have to exercise but she’s always been a walker and a lot of formative moments in our lives have happened on walks; decisions taken and direction clarified.
When we first went mobile and Peggy started writing occasional poems about her adventures she wrote one about “It’s always morning when you’re camping.” It’s a bit rough — she had been away from writing poems for a while and she’s honed her skills a bit since then, but it’s true. It IS always morning when you’re camping. People seem to have that morning frame of mind.
While walking I’m always cheery and I like to wave to other campers who notice us walking past. Occasionally I’ll say something while walking by, but I rarely start a conversation on the fly. If I get a perky response to my greeting, one that suggests a willingness to continue, I may toss out something else to see what comes back, but I don’t just stop and start talking with other campers.
Lately ( the last couple weeks ) we’ve fallen prey to another kind of camper; ones who practically walk into your campsite to initiate a conversation without encouragement. It’s usually been people with questions about our coach or with dog walkers just wanting to talk.
I like to talk as much as the next guy. Well, as much as most guys. But I’ve been noticing how much many RV’ers like to talk. To perfect strangers. At the drop of a hat. It’s a good thing, more like the ‘old days’ when friends and family used to just stop by to visit without calling, without texting, just to be sociable.
But I also think it’s a function of the mobile lifestyle. maintaining relationships isn’t easy on the road; it takes some doing on both parties’ side. But the difficulty of maintaining (or beginning) relationships also speaks to the issue of companionship on the road and changing personal values. I’m not an expert on friendships, or on being sociable (I used to say of myself that I was socially obtuse because I missed so many social signals because I was focussed on something other than looking for feedback). Still and all this thing about going up to people and talking with them, or telling new friends long stories, or just boring people with more than they want to know is something that resonates with me. And I like to have mutual relationship, not just one-sided ones.
I used to laugh at my father, who when I was growing up, had been a man of few words. He was a wonderful guy, but he simply didn’t say much. At work he spent most of 8 hours a day in a 30 x 20 cubicle filled with gauges and recording graphs with one other co-worker. For most of 30 years. He was a boiler operator for our local electric utility. He didn’t talk. To anyone. At all. I don’t remember him sitting around the table chatting about the day — but then he also worked rotating shifts so every 30 days he had spent a week working a different shift and then having a long weekend.
He planned for an early retirement; most of his peers died before retirement. It was a stressful job and heart attacks among the crew were common. So, he retired at 55.
Suddenly this guy who never talked much to anyone would talk to everyone, anywhere, whether or not he knew them. And I was amazed!
I don’t think that kind of change is particularly a function of loneliness. After retirement mom and dad did everything together. I noticed that they talked more together after his retirement. As long as my mom was alive they were very active together, and she was the love of his life — after her passing for his remaining five years he had no desire to date, or mingle — he just traveled, which is what they did a lot of together.
But I do think he changed because of the changes in his own personal priorities. He got active with the local hospital philanthropy group. He wanted to volunteer but like me he had a strange personality and he was never very successful about finding a volunteer gig that he liked.
But what was different was having TIME to do things he liked. Which I think is part of the reason I have always stressed doing what I loved and not doing what I could make a living at. At retirement dad was no longer on the union clock. He didn’t have rules to live by he was free to see people for who they were instead of what role they played. And role playing was a big thing for him: he had seen a lot of hypocrisy in his life and he wanted no part of that. I think that he simply didn’t want to play the social games that others played with skill and he did not. Certainly, after retirement he seemed to enjoy people more than he had while he worked.
When we were at the Oregon Dunes doing our Volunteer Coordinator gig, we were told that part of our job was listening to other volunteers. It was said as if the other volunteers were all lonely; but fact of the matter is that camp hosts and caretakers have loads of opportunities to talk to people. And most of them take those opportunities. Who has not seen hosts and maintenance volunteers stopping to chat or give information to visitors & campers. Maybe too many opportunities (if they were working for pay and their boss saw them) — but they aren’t employees, they are volunteers and no one can tell them they have to stop talking. There’s no reason for them to be lonely.
That doesn’t mean you make hard and fast friends with campers, but you can certainly have enough human interaction to cure loneliness — if that was a problem. But sometimes you just like being with people, you just like being social. You may not develop friendships with campers but you can. Some of our hosts who had been on-site for several years had regular campers who returned regularly and became friends. I know we have maintained correspondences with campers we’ve been and ‘clicked’ with.
The thing about retirement is that in a society super conscious of time, you are suddenly in a situation where you can (if you choose) take all the time you want doing anything you want. That change can come as a brick wall obstacle, or it can be like someone giving you wings and teaching you to fly. For those generations that grew up with people, around people, helping people sometimes all you need is other people.
It’s a sad thing that in today’s world children are are told not to talk to strangers. I understand the danger parents see — and it’s a real danger — but it’s sad to see them isolated into a world of their own. Perhaps that’s partly why they spend so much time on video games — they aren’t allowed to talk to people. But here I am getting older and finding myself more likely to strike up a conversation with an absolute stranger and yet the little ones of the world can’t do that.
I try (don’t always succeed) to smile when I’m out and about. When we’re at the grocery I can’t tell you how many little kids start looking at me, and (yup) I like to try to hold their gaze as long as I can. I’ll make faces at them (nice ones), or wink at them, or hide behind a box of cereal in my hand and then peek-a-boo out at them — to see them laugh. Thus far I have been fortunate; none of the parents have freaked out and thought I was some kind of monster just because I smile at their children — or say ‘bye-bye’ as they get pushed out of the checkout lane ahead of me, still staring back at me.
I think I’ve mentioned that our last house — the old school — sat adjacent to the new elementary school. I used to love going out into the yard during the warm school months. The kids would flock to the fence between the properties and say, “Hey Mister….” and there was always a question to be asked. I loved answering their questions, and making jokes with them. They were interesting conversations, actually, because most of the time they were open: they’d say something, and then wait for you to say something. Then they’d say something and wait for you to answer.
Anyway, Thanks for stopping by, go make a friend today and have a good conversation. I’ll talk with you tomorrow.