I recently ran into a friend at the Price Chopper, a local supermarket and frequent meeting place. “I love reading your blogs. Sorry I missed your community program last November on dealing with illness,” he said. “But you know me,” he continued, “I don’t want to talk about it.”
He was quick to remind me why. “Whenever I see you I have two responses: I immediately want to run towards you and, at the same time, run the other way. Most people ask ‘how are you’ and it’s a mere formality but not you—you actually want to know.”
I admit, “I do.”
“Not me,” he confessed. “I find myself walking away from our conversations examining my life which for some can be a good thing but not for me.” We wrapped our arms around each other, as has been our custom over the years, but before we parted he whispered, “You don’t make small talk.”
I assured him, “It was not a secret.” I chuckled, as did he, which brought levity to our parting.
I often find myself in a dilemma when I am introduced to people whom I don’t know and they invariably ask, “What do you do?”
Sometimes I’m tempted to say, “You don’t want to know.” Yes, it’s provocative but can spare them and me.
Other times, I tell myself it is a question that I should be able to answer in a 30 second elevator pitch. I’ve got it down to the 15-second mark by leaving out the part about how my work as medical humanist at a Vermont cancer center informed the creation of a tool to facilitate doctor-patient communication. I simply say, “I help prepare patients facing serious illness and their loved ones for open and honest conversations with doctors”
The incredulous look on some people’s faces is often followed with the parting words “good luck.”
Others say, “Tell me more…”
There’s nothing that stops a conversation that starts with “What do you do?” quicker than “I am Hospice and Bereavement Counselor ” as an answer. Now I often just say “I work in Health Care”. It sometimes saves us all, but, does certainly fall far short from the truth. I hate small talk.
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