My Begruding Attendance at a Meeting and What I Learned from It

I had a dozen reasons why I should not go to the Relief Society meeting. It was a craft night. I didn’t particularly want to make either of the offered crafts. The even was right across homework time and bedtime. Kiki and Link weren’t feeling well. Gleek was on edge. If I went I’d have to talk to people. I wasn’t sure what to say. The house was a mess and the mess would no get better in my absence. Howard would be out until late. The list of reasons why I should go was shorter. I was part of the committee and should support the event. I’d agreed to help with one of the crafts. There would be some short lessons along with the crafts. The most compelling reason was a sense that I’ve become disconnected from my neighborhood friends and I ought to fix it. Also I’ve been feeling like I should be giving more to my church assignments rather than just the bare minimum I’d been allotting for months. All day long I mulled over these lists. I thought through the excuses I could give. I knew that my attendance was not essential, everything would be fine without me. The most responsible thing would be to stay home and maintain order for my family.

It was thirty minutes before the scheduled start of the Relief Society meeting and I still hadn’t called the committee chair to say I would not be coming. I don’t know why. I’d rehearsed the call in my head multiple times. I knew she’d be friendly and understanding. I had good reasons. Yet I had not called. Some part of me knew that it would be the wrong choice. I stood in my kitchen listening to the sounds of the kids playing games. I had no dinner plan and interrupting games for homework was sure to spark some rebellion. I really should have begun my preparations to leave an hour before so that all would be orderly while I was gone. Staying home made sense, but there was a ream of paper on my kitchen counter–a necessary supply for one of the crafts. Buying it had been my assignment and it had to be delivered to the event. I threw macaroni & cheese into a pot on the stove, called the kids from their games, told them I’d be gone for a bit, instructed them to do homework as soon as they ate dinner, and within the thirty minutes I was out the door.

“Thank you!” called the committee chair as she saw me enter with the ream of paper.
I smiled in return “I’m going to need to duck out early.” I said, splitting the middle between my two lists. I’d come, but I’d hurry home to take care of things there. I sat and listened to three quick lessons on building good relationships with God, with family and with friends. No words or phrasing jumped out at me, yet I had a creeping sense that I need to be better about the second two. God and I are on pretty good terms just now, but I haven’t been doing so great at reaching out to family and friends. I listened. I tried to absorb and think how I’ll need to change.

I also thought through my exit strategy. I’d introduce the craft and then duck out. No one would miss me. The evening was already an obvious success. I could see that the committee chair was right,the women in our neighborhood needed nights like this. They needed an excuse to get together and visit. Around me I could hear people laughing, commiserating, and offering advice. These were the sort of conversations which don’t seem important enough to make a phone call, but which can change everything through sharing experiences and perspectives. I stood up introduced the craft and then hands were busy while hearts and minds spoke. I stepped to a corner of the table and began cutting the paper I’d brought into quarters. It needed to be cut for the project. I was doing a useful job. Three women shared the table with me, but we didn’t talk. Each of us was occupied with the projects in our hands.

The paper was cut. I’d been at the meeting for an hour. It was time to make my quiet exit. I paused by the committee chair to let her know that I was leaving. She smiled and thanked me for all my help. As I walked down the hall of the building I thought about that silent twenty minutes at the table with the other women. I’d kept hoping they would talk to each other. Then I could listen. Then I could know that everyone else was having a good experience, learning, growing, sharing. I like listening to conversations and occasionally participating. It is my preferred social mode. I thought how very different from me most of the women in my neighborhood are. Many of the things I am passionate about don’t matter to them. Other things we have in common, we could have talked about those, but didn’t. I guess I’m just not good at small talk. I pushed the door open and exited the building.

You know that is not true. It wasn’t words, more of a knowledge that planted itself in the front of my mind. And it wasn’t true. I do perfectly fine chatting with strangers. It is a skill I’ve carefully cultivated and I practice it all the time at conventions and professional events. When I exert myself I can make conversation in grocery store lines or on elevators. My feet slowed and I stopped in the cold winter air. Ahead of me was the parking lot and my car,behind me was the warm building filled with women who were connecting to each other, or wanting to connect. Some of them did not know how to start conversations. But I did. I was good at starting and maintaining conversations, and I’d stood silently for twenty minutes while a younger woman, new to the neighborhood, in need of friends, stood next to me.

I’d come to the event, but I’d held myself back from it. I was there in body, but not in spirit. I could ghost away and my absence would make no difference at all, or I could go back in and exercise all my capabilities to make the meeting be all that it could be for everyone. I stood for a quiet moment. My breath steamed in the air. Then I did what I knew I ought to have done in the first place. I turned and went back inside to really be present for the meeting.

An hour later I’d introduced myself to the new neighbor, talked and laughed with familiar faces, shared thoughts on parenting, education, and crafts. I’d meant to deliberately circulate, talk to lots of people. Instead I landed in a comfortable conversation and stayed. I could perhaps have extended myself even more than I did, but I went home knowing that I’d begun to work on those friendships and connections which I need to build.

There will be another Relief Society meeting again next month. I’d love to be able to say that I’ve learned my lesson and will attend it whole heartedly, reserving nothing. The truth is that I’ll probably have the same paired lists next month. I’ll fight the same battle again. I know that getting out and talking with people is good for me. It makes me happier, more connected. Yet I tend to stay at home by myself. I have hundreds of logical reasons for it, and truthfully I do need quiet empty spaces to recharge. I seek them out. What I forget is that my respites need to be balanced with times when I truly give my full attention to connecting with other people, as I did for the Relief Society craft meeting. Or mostly did, I can do better than I did this time. And I will.