Shall we have a chat?


Randy Riley - Contributing columnist



One of the many things that COVID-19 has taken from us is conversation.

Several years ago, I was driving Jessi back to college. We sat quietly in the car as the miles ticked by.

The drive from Wilmington to Athens is beautiful. Farm ground, trees and winding roads lead the way from home to college. I always loved those few hours alone with my girl.

For some reason, this had been a quiet trip. Finally, I said, “OK. Let’s have a little chit-chat before we get back.”

She turned her head toward me and asked, “Chit-chat?”

“Yep,” I said, “You know, chit-chat. Yakety-yak. Blah, blah, blahbity, blah, blah. We talk a lot, but don’t say much.” As usual, she got the giggles.

Immediately, I started laughing because Jessi often snorts when she giggles. Once the snorting starts, she can’t stop. For the next several minutes, between the occasional snort, we took turns saying “chit-chat” with different vocal inflections and tones.

Not a meaningful word was said, but we communicated laughter and love as we chitted and chatted.

This past week, just to have some meaningful words pass through my ears, I watched a couple of TED talks on the computer.

TED talks are presentations that cover a wide range of technology, entertainment, and design topics. They are always interesting. Debbie and I have watched a lot of TV over the past several months, but television writers tend to string words together that are supposed to be entertaining, but usually end up just numbing the mind. Listening to the TED talks was refreshing.

Yesterday, Debbie and I discussed whether we really talk or not. I asked, “Do we ever really talk? You know, have conversations.”

She said, “I think so.” I followed with, “No, not just a few words like, “While you’re up, will you get me a cup of coffee?” or “I think we need to get out of house. Let’s take a drive.” But real conversations.”

After some giggling and laughing (we do that a lot), we decided that we rarely have in-depth conversations. Maybe we don’t. But we do chit-chat a lot. That lady always makes me laugh. We do laugh.

About ten years ago, the education coordinator at our church asked me if I would take over the adult Sunday School class. Our topic changes every few months, but what a delight it is to take an hour each Sunday morning to have meaningful conversation with other adults.

We always start off with a specific topic, but our conversation usually drifts and glides to those things that are most on our hearts and minds.

Some of our conversations are serious or sad, but we usually have plenty of laughter and joy.

Just as it is necessary to have friends who can share laughter and joy. It is also necessary to have friends we can talk with who can share sadness and grief. We always share love, friendship, concern, and joy. Because of COVID, we haven’t met face-to-face in almost a year.

Yet, I love having virtual talks with friends on Sunday morning.

We haven’t had a family reunion in over a year. I certainly miss our big, extended family and friends.

My niece, Dede, called this past week just because we hadn’t talked in several months. We ended up talking for nearly an hour. It was a glorious hour. A few weeks before that, I talked with my brother Jeff in Arizona. We also chatted for nearly an hour.

I don’t normally like talking on the phone, but after so long without talking to loved ones, it was a delight to spend time with them.

The only person I really hate to talk with on the telephone is that person who always starts with, “Hello, I’m calling about the extended warranty on your car.” Ok, those callers can just leave me alone.

We do always need to be careful whenever we talk. Speaking is just half of a conversation. Listening and understanding is the other half.

About 40 years ago, I was going to surprise my two boys with their first trip to the ocean. To keep it a surprise, I told them we were going to the Smoky Mountains, and we did. We spent a night in Gatlinburg.

Then, the next morning, we continued on. As we left the mountains behind, they started getting confused. So, after breakfast, I explained that we were headed to Myrtle Beach and the Atlantic Ocean. Then they really got excited. There were lots of questions about sandcastles, waves, saltwater, and the beach.

A few hours later, we were driving through a small village called Goshen. As you might expect, they had a shopping center named … Land ‘O Goshen. Danny got excited and started cheering and yelling, “We’re there. We’re there.” After a second or two, I realized what he meant.

I said, “No, Dando. We’re not going to the Land ‘O Goshen. We’re going to the Atlantic Ocean.”

Once we got checked into our beach side hotel, we still giggled about being at the Land ‘O Goshen.

I do miss conversations. I miss talking with family and friends. I can’t wait until COVID is behind us and visiting and talking with family and friends returns.

It will. I want my old normal back.

Randy Riley is a former Mayor of Wilmington and former Clinton County Commissioner.

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Randy Riley

Contributing columnist