My mother and I were having our monthly lunch date at a little cafe, a ritual we began during the past year. We’d never been particularly close, starting with our dramatic fights during my teenage years three decades ago. So, when she suddenly expressed a desire for more connection with me, I seized the chance, aware of time’s passing and the need for healing.
Our first lunch felt strained, but soon we began to share laughter with our salads. On this day, however, our talk took an unexpected turn.
"He acts like it isn’t happening," my mother said of my father’s deteriorating health. "I can’t talk with him about it."
"Well, I’m not surprised," I responded, sadly. "He’s turned a blind eye to most things in life that he finds distasteful."
My mother fell silent at my comment, tears filling her eyes.
"I just wanted us to have a good time today," she said forlornly at the emotional shift in our conversation.
"Mom," I replied. "We are having a good time. Just because we aren’t laughing doesn’t mean things aren’t good. Sad feelings are a part of life and expressing them means we are having a real time. "
I gave my mom a hug and we continued our lunch quietly. As I drove home later I reflected, just what is a good time?
Television commercials, films, and magazine ads depict good times as people with their heads thrown back in laughter or gathered in large groups around food or liquor. I, however, think some of the best times are a comfortable sweet silence or a heartfelt talk shared with someone dear to me. That’s when I increase intimacy with a friend, or deepen my connection with an acquaintance.
Deep human connection brings me the greatest joy. It doesn’t require food or alcohol. It’s independent of holidays, though can happen then. Expensive theater or concert tickets aren’t necessary for it to occur, and neither is elaborate fashion. In fact, sometimes it happens while dressed in ratty bathrobes with uncombed hair. All that’s needed is for me to be fully present to another human being, and then accept whatever comes from that connection.
As for throwing my head back with laughter, I can laugh with people I hardly know. In fact, I can laugh with total strangers. It’s pleasurable, to be sure, but a steady diet of this kind of fun eventually falls flat, like a soufflé that collapses at the slightest jostle. Truly good times stand on a sturdier base – one built from a little sweat, a few tears, and earned understandings. These are the materials from which solid foundations are forged, and they launch the highest and heartiest laughs, ones that won’t crumble at the first chill.
We humans have a wide range of feelings and I, for one, want my relationships to be full orchestral arrangements that use all these moods. If I know someone over time then we learn to play many tunes together: happy and sad, regretful and grateful, joyful and melancholy, grief-stricken and rapturous.
When my mother and I shared a sad moment at lunch we added some low emotional notes to the higher ones we’d previously sung. It brought us closer and enriched our lives. Though lacking laughter, our lunch was time well spent—good time. Real time.