Monday, January 9, 2017

"If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking." George S. Patton

30 Day Writing Challenge:

Write about an experience with a stranger.

Several years ago I had a delightful eight hour conversation with a 70+ year old woman. We were seat mates at a wrestling tournament that lasted forever. Her husband sat next to her quietly watching the matches, and mine sat quietly next to me.  This woman gaily chatted and told me several stories. After an hour or two she apologized, “I’m sorry I’ve been talking so much. My husband says I talk too much.” 

I told her I thought she was a wonderful conversationalist and that I appreciated her thoughts very much. She said, “Well, he’s kind of quiet and sometimes he doesn’t talk much.” 

I laughed and told her my story:

I have a little radio that constantly plays in my head. Usually one station comes in clear, but at other times two or three stations compete for the brainwaves and interfere with each other. The ideas, conversations, and opinions present a constant line-up of programming. The volume is stuck; it isn’t drive-me-crazy loud, but it isn’t background quality either. I assumed everyone has a little radio playing in their head.

Once I asked Calvin what he was thinking (or in other words what his radio was playing). He simply said, “Nothing.” Since we were only dating at the time I figured he was private and I was too forward. But after we were married and not near so private, I asked him again. Again he said, “Nothing.” I told him that couldn’t be and asked again. His answer was, “Really. Nothing.” I explained to him that the brain has to be thinking of something. It’s never blank, it’s always thinking.” Then I asked him again what he was thinking and he replied, “Well . . . I guess I’m thinking about driving and the road, if my brain has to be thinking of something.”

That didn’t make sense. My head radio NEVER thinks about just driving unless I’m in heavy traffic and even then other thoughts like, “I wonder where that woman is going?” and “He appears to think he is very important,” still have time to play their tunes. But, peace loving soul that I am, I dropped it.  
For years, our silence was interrupted with, “What are you thinking?”

“Nothing.  (After a sideways glance from me) Uhhh, I guess I was thinking about how good this pop tastes” or some other simple thought.

Several years later I was on a walk with Ty (the son we were watching at the wrestling tournament). As we walked we talked.  After a little while it got quiet.  I causally asked Ty what he was thinking. 


I couldn’t believe it. I wondered when Calvin taught him to say that. I was fairly certain it wasn’t a formal lesson, but I didn’t think it was stamped in the genetic code either. Sure that my future daughter-in-law would someday thank me, I said, “Oh no. That’s not possible, Ty. You see the brain is always thinking something. You might not recognize it as a thought, but it is always thinking. Let’s try it again. What are you thinking?”

“Mom, I’m really not thinking anything.”

Undaunted, I kept going, “Well, maybe you’re thinking about the rocks on the road, or maybe you’re wondering how long we’ll walk, but you’re thinking something and do you know what? It’s really important you learn to tell people what you’re thinking so that someday when your wife asks you what you’re thinking you can make conversation with her so that she doesn’t feel left out.”

He didn’t argue so I assumed the lesson was taught successfully and filled the lull with conversation of my own. Occasionally, whenever we went on walks together I would ask him what he was thinking and each time he’d say, “Nothing really, but I know it’s important I learn to make conversation with my wife, so I’ll say something when I have a wife.” I supposed that would have to do until he had more finely tuned in to his radio.

But the joke was on me. Later I read a book by Dr. Laura. To prove her point that men can perfectly enjoy silence with no thoughts she quoted, John, one of her listeners:

“I dated a woman for a few months, and whenever we drove anywhere, if there was a lull in the conversation, she would demand, ‘What are you thinking?’

‘I’m not thinking anything, dear’ was never good enough, and she would spend the rest of the date sulking and planning her retribution against male domination—or something or other.

"I told her that men aren’t bright enough to drive and think at the same time, and that just added more fuel to the fire.

"We look at the birds, we look at the trees, we look far enough down the road to make sure someone doesn’t plow through a red light and kill us all; but driving and plotting and manipulating at the same time takes far more hard drive than we were ever issued.

"If a man tells you he isn’t thinking anything, he probably isn’t. Can’t see how that is so hard to understand.” (The Proper Care & Feeding of Husbands, by Dr. Laura Schlessinger, pg. 94-95)

When I finished my story and Dr. Laura's observation, my friend at the wrestling match heaved a heavy sigh, “Oh, thank you.”  

Then she glanced at her husband and turned back to me and whispered, “Sometimes I thought he didn’t like me. I feel so much better knowing that he isn’t thinking anything.

1 comment:

Michelle said...

Hahahaha I didn't know this story. I got a kick out of Ty saying that he'd come up with something to say when he had a wife. How very Ty of him. In case you're wondering... I don't ask him hardly ever because I'd learned that men don't like that question, but when I do, the answer is still often, "Nothing." :)