I had lunch with a friend today at the local burger joint. You know the place I mean – every town has one. The ones where the burgers are hand-formed and the smell of the place lingers in your hair and on your clothes for hours afterwards. Ours is called Ike’s and they serve some of the most amazing burgers you’ll find anywhere. Add the hand cut fries and the onion rings to the mix and, as we say around here, it’s Katy bar the door!
This particular burger joint is very popular around lunchtime and parking can get tricky. Not only that, the building itself is quite small for the number of burger-loving folks who want to get in, so the tables are mostly all smooshed together into long 8-tops in order to seat more people. Unless you’re coming in with a party of eight, this creates an interesting situation. Newcomers can join a table with customers already seated there, or they sit at an empty table and later on someone comes in and sits with them. Either way, strangers often end up side by side at the table. There was a period in my life when that would have sent me running right back out the door. Sit with strangers? No thanks. But, hello, the burgers.
I’ve always found eating together to be such an intimate experience. It’s so vital, so necessary for human life, that eating together is a kind of reminder that we are ALL human and we ALL have certain needs. So the first time I found myself eating lunch next to perfect strangers was a little bit of a jolt. Now I find it somewhat exciting to see who shows up at my table.
And every time it presents me with a choice: I can either ignore them and pretend that the other table-sitters aren’t there, or I can engage them. Both are awkward choices, I admit. I’m an introvert and making small talk with strangers does not come easily. But the silence is even harder to take so I choose to jump off the ledge and start a conversation about the menu, or the weather, or the staff, or one of the historical photos on the wall. Sometimes it goes well and the conversation lasts all the way through lunch, sometimes not so much. And every time I choose to connect, it gets easier. People, it seems, want to be engaged. A friendly smile and a kind word go a long way.
By being brave enough to reach out, I’ve learned a lot of history about the area of the South where we live. I’ve shared fries with a perfect stranger. I’ve exchanged restaurant reviews and controversial opinions about some of the widely adored landmarks in our town. (The Beacon? Not a fan.) I’ve laughed myself silly over a college professor’s hilarious tales of campus life. And my life is richer for it. You never know who will end up at your table at Ike’s and that’s part of the attraction for me.
That may sound uncomfortable to you, not knowing who will be at your table. But I want to tell you about a unique conference coming up that might give you a chance to step out of your comfort zone and make some new connections in a safe environment with other ladies who need community, just like you.
This weekend is the (in)RL Conference. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s the conference that comes to you – no planes to catch or hotel rooms to book. Local hostesses very generously open their homes for ladies to gather and experience community, and the theme this year is “We need YOUR story”. It’s scary to sign up, scarier still to show up, but it’s so worth it. Someone out there needs to hear YOUR story, because it’s more important than you know. And there may be stories out there that you need to hear. There’ll be food, and fun, and the potential to develop friendships that could last the rest of your life. But if you don’t go, you’ll never know.
Last year was my first year doing (in)RL, and I confess that even though I dragged a friend along (because it’s way easier for me than going it alone), I rang that doorbell with a trembling hand. But on the other side of that door I found welcome and open arms and necks to hug. There was food and conversation and talk about things we had in common and things we didn’t. Can I encourage you to check it out? Look at the meetup page, find a gathering in your area, and RSVP. Then just show up. Invite a friend, or go it alone if that’s your style, and choose to connect. Your life will be richer for it.