I am a self-proclaimed introvert in most aspects of my life. I enjoy stimulating conversation, but mostly I’m a listener. I like to put myself in the shoes of the speaker and take each step with them as they share an experience. I ask questions to fill in the gaps and then return to active listening. And in the silence that follows their story, when I am still in the story or formulating another question, I have unwittingly made the extrovert terribly uncomfortable. So much so that they feel the need to fill in any silences with unnecessary chatter.
And it’s the chatter, the white noise, which loses me. I return to active listening only to be frustrated that the speaker is taking me nowhere in particular. So imagine my horror when I discovered that my companion for a twenty-hour drive was an extreme extrovert. She is a fiery little redhead of a woman who I find I adore in small doses and is a friend of my cousin who we are helping move to Houston. It was decided that she and I would ride in the confines of the cab of the 16-foot moving truck. My cousin, her mother and highly extroverted dog (which I secretly prefer over extroverted people) would ride in her little green Cavalier before us.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, Pulitzer winner from 2005, is the only witness to the next twenty hours. She is stashed on the floor next to the cooler, rescued from the Iowa City Book Festival for a mere $3.00. I am in the driver’s seat and Norma is perched on the passenger seat. We pull out onto Interstate 90 from Beloit, WI and settle in for a long ride. There is small talk – lots of small talk. We talk about her husband and kids, which I enjoy, and then more small talk.
And did I mention this woman speaks with a megaphone voice – effortlessly – in the small, hollow, metal cab of a big truck? An hour into the drive, I am ready to throw myself out of this moving torture chamber. There’s barely enough time to absorb what she’s saying before she moves on to something else. I interject long enough to learn that Norma likes modern country music. I do not. I prefer the good stuff from the 80’s and earlier. So we settle on the old country from my iPod and start howling along to Roger Miller, Pasty Cline and Little Jimmy Dickens.
It has been my experience with extroverted people such as my dear Norma, that if you can get them to be still and silent for fifteen minutes, they generally pass out like kids when the sugar wears off. So I start to sing a little softer and discretely turn the volume down until – sweet silence at last! I find her lullaby somewhere between “You Can’t Rollerskate in a Buffalo Herd” and “May the Bird of Paradise Fly Up Your Nose.” And in my newfound bliss, I hear a voice from between my seat and the cooler.
“Well done! You used your creativity for good instead of evil,” proclaims Gilead, in all her subtle wisdom. It’s not that I expect every interaction to be like strolling through beautiful fall-colored woods with leaves falling like a light rain and serenaded by a woodpecker’s pecking, but I am interested in making a safe place for someone’s soul to show up.