Column: Likeminded strangers provide a moment of bliss

What’s the difference between a meeting and a party? This is a question I asked myself before going to yet another meeting. Why do I schedule them? There are often as many people at meetings as there are at parties, and I don’t like parties.

Maybe meetings seem different because the meetings I sign up for usually have speakers. Speakers provide my need for one-on-one. I can blank out the audience. One person up front standing. I tend to give more credibility to one standing than one of many standing upright at a party.

I also find myself more comfortable at meetings because those around me don’t expect I will engage them. This puts me at ease. The pressure I experience at parties is absent.

One more difference. I find I don’t have to worry about being invited to meetings. With meetings I just sign up. Sometimes I even pay to go to one. I can’t imagine paying to go to a party. Although back in the day I think my wife and I did so regularly for a New Year’s Eve party. Boy is that a bygone era. Does anyone still do that?

I get on this party subject a lot. Without having counted, my guess is that only lawn mowing has appeared more. I am surprised to find that at least with parties I am not alone. I have had more people say that they agree with my party attitude than those who try to convince me of what I am missing or lacking.

Anyway, what brought me to comparing the two events was my attendance at a recent meeting. The speaker asked each table to determine what kind of community we would design to live in. I didn’t know a soul at our table and just assumed that they would all say something that resembled a commune. This simmered within me until it felt like pressure. Before anyone at my table could say anything I took the initiative to speak first. I did so figuring I was delivering a good bye speech.

“What I don’t want as a community is a commune,” I said. “What I do want is ample space and neighbors far apart. I want us to love one another and take care of the pristine environment around us. Oh yes, one more thing. I want a strong and fast Internet connection.”

Before anyone responded, I readied myself to get out of there. I hadn’t yet begun my retreat when a man across the table said, “I agree.”

I was astounded. Then he said, “But...”

I got ready to go again, but his “but” was only to make some minor tweaks to what I had already said. It felt like I was in that commercial where the guy delivers the slobbery line, “I love you man.”

Our table, a mixture of men and women, then discussed and expanded upon what I had initially believed to be my exit line. After several tweaks to the original I continued to agree with what we came up with. I had to restrain myself from doing anymore “I love you’s.”

When the members of each table presented their thoughts I found out how truly fortunate I was to be seated where I had been. We had six tables of six people in the room. With only one exception, they leaned more toward communes. I think had I been sitting at any one of those other tables I would have thought I was at a party.

Bob Ritchie is pastor of Bennington Congregational Church and a regular contributor.

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