The benches are rusting.
It’s been three years since we put the benches in the grassy area of our cul-de-sac. Before we had them, I would watch my neighbors chat for a few minutes at their mailboxes, but never for long. They have lived here over 40 years and simply didn’t have the energy to stand.
But after we bought those benches, the ladies in the cul-de-sac began to linger. I watched as they would meet at the benches and sit for hours. Sometimes I would sit with them. As they talked about their grown children, we watched as mine rode their bikes in circles around us.
They’ve been neighbors for decades and have always had things to talk about. But now, they had a bench to sit on together. Now I could join them, listen and ask questions – what they remember about the war, what they like to read, the weather.
It isn’t that they didn’t want to be together, but before it wasn’t so easy. Now, they had a bench to sit on. It didn’t give them something to talk about; it gave them a place to do it.
Last month, over 6,000 of you gathered in homes, coffee shops, churches and parks to celebrate in real life friendship – both new ones and old. In the keynote many of you watched Friday night before the worldwide meet-up day, I shared this story of the benches we put in our cul-de-sac.
Hostesses around the world opened their homes or made a little space in their day to invite those of you who live nearby to meet in real life. In other words, they made a bench for you.
People want to talk about things. They want to relate and live in community and converse and be together. Sometimes they just need a bench. They need a place to get the conversation started, a platform that allows them to linger and find one another.
But then what?
It’s been a month since (in)RL and I hope some of you have stayed in touch with people you met at your various meetups. But there’s a good chance many of you didn’t. There’s a good chance some of you went and simply didn’t connect with the women who showed up.
There’s also a good chance many of you didn’t go at all because you are emotionally allergic to small talk and large groups of women.
Gathering for (in)RL is one kind of bench. But it certainly isn’t the only kind.
I wrote a post on my blog, Chatting at the Sky, about why I hope you’ll subscribe to my blog. My intention was not to get a lot of subscribers for numbers sake. My intention was to invite readers to subscribe because I see my blog as a bench.
I write because it’s my way of seeing and sharing the world and I hope people will see something hopeful in the words, something that perhaps calls courage out from places within that have been forgotten.
My blog is a bench I hope you want to sit on.
We hope the same thing for this space here at (in)courage.
But not everyone will see it that way.
The day I wrote that post, I received a few emails from kind readers who honestly admitted they didn’t feel like part of my community at all. I have too many readers (I can’t possibly know them all), too many comments (I can’t possibly respond to them all), and though they appreciated my writing, they simply see things from a realistic perspective.
They were right in one sense. And if I wrote a blog to become personal friends with everyone who reads, well then you might say I’m a miserable failure at building a bench.
The reality is, I can’t personally connect with everyone who reads. I write and try to communicate honestly, I try to make these online spaces a comfortable place for people to come and connect in the small ways a blog will allow.
But my expectation of the benches I am building through writing books and a blog is not to make thousands of personal friends. Writing online can become this kind of community for some, but it isn’t always.
That doesn’t mean a blog or an (in)RL meeting aren’t still benches. It simply means those can’t be our only benches.
It’s one thing to gather around a bench someone else is building – a blog or an in(RL) meeting or a small group hosted by someone at your church. I don’t want to deny the courage it takes to attend these things.
Still, sitting on a bench may not be the only thing we need.
Because often times once you get there, you realize it isn’t what you hoped it would be.
You realize it’s harder to connect than you thought it might be.
You realize that people can be seriously hurtful.
Sometimes the benches get rusty.
This is the hard part. This is looking deep within ourselves and asking hard questions. We have to admit what we need and what we most long for. We have to grieve our disappointments and be honest about how others aren’t meeting our expectations.
And we also may need to consider something else.
Instead of asking what you need, begin to consider what you have to offer.
Is that a scary question?
Do you believe you have something to offer?
Do you see a need for a different kind of bench in your own life?
Are you waiting for someone else to build it?
What if they’re waiting for you?
ABOUT EMILY FREEMAN
Emily Freeman is a writer who encourages girls of all ages to create space for their souls to breathe. She is the author of two books: Grace for the Good Girl and Graceful. She and her husband live...