From checklists to nuanced living

I was recently a part of a large conversation in which a woman talked about her daughter who had recently accomplished the amazing feat of hiking all 53 fourteeners — mountains topping 14,000 feet of elevation — in Colorado.

The story was told as one to be admired, but it bothered me.

Any time we approach life, the world around us, or people as a list to be checked off, we reduce the value of everything and everyone on the list.

The young woman who had done these 53 hikes never got to know any of the mountains she climbed. In fact, I bet she’d be hard pressed to remember most of them. Yes, climbing them is an amazing feat, one that I’ll never accomplish. But it came at a cost: personal knowledge.

What if she had chosen to hike one of those peaks 53 times instead of 53 of them one time each?

Would the hike get boring? Would the scenery start to blend in? Possibly. That’s what eating the same breakfast cereal every morning does to me. Familiarity can breed boredom, if not contempt. But that’s not all familiarity breeds.

Familiarity breeds family. It enables us to see nuance and develop an appreciation for the details that novelty never allows for.

The same is true for reading books and watching movies over and over again, becoming familiar with them through repeated exposure to them. Sure, the plot remains the same, but the subtleties of the plot rise to the surface and we are surprised by details we’d missed numerous times before. And the characters grow deeper as we become friends with them.

I’ve reread books and realized I’d missed entire themes that were there the whole time but which were buried for me because I was paying attention to other themes.

Real friendship requires history.

The initial connection made between people can be wonderful and a kind of intimacy can be experienced right away. But only a kind of intimacy. Let me explain.

When couples come to my wife and me for premarital counseling, every single one of them talks about how great they communicate with each other. And most of them do OK. But what they don’t realize is that what they are thinking is great communication is really just two people who don’t know each other finding out new things about each other all the time. It’s the fact that they don’t know each other that makes them think they do.

There’s a thrill in discovering something or someone for the first time. But it’s a surface thrill. And it pales in comparison with a lengthy acquaintance. It’s like sweet grape juice in comparison with an aged and mature wine.

Now, I love meeting and making new friends. This week, I had the opportunity to do just that. A handful of people in particular who I met are those that I can see becoming longtime friends with. But I also saw old friends this week, friends I have known for two decades or so. And the conversations we had this week were extensions of long conversations stemming from 20 years of friendship and mutual affection. The new friends I made could become like the older friends, but only if we out in the repeated interactions necessary for them to do so. Otherwise, they will be simple happy momentary blips in our lives, nice instances with no depth.

I want to taste depth of experience, of friendship, of meaning, of knowledge. I don’t want to skim on the surface of things and relationships like so much of our culture does, as we hurry on to the next new experience and never going more than an inch deep. And I want others to do the same with me.

I what to know and be known. I want a face-to-face life, not a so-fast life that everything and everyone is too quickly seen only in the rearview mirror.