Opinion: New friends and the importance of sitting


About a week ago at the Starkville Community Market, I had a woman strike up a conversation with me about sitting with the elderly.

I didn’t realize at first that it was a halfway invitation to come sit with her and her husband, but when she asked if I would like to come to their home and sit for awhile, I - at first - reluctantly said yes.

Now, there’s a difference between “sitting” and “visiting” that I should probably explain now for folks closer to my age.

Visiting can be restricted to simply dropping by to say hello, or business. But “sitting” with someone is a practice more applicable to people born before 1960. I saw this regularly with my grandparents growing up and it is a practice that has been eroded by instant gratification on social media and through the interconnectivity of our devices.

If looking at it like an anthropological study, sittings are accompanied by gossip, catching up on one’s health, discussing college sports or any other topic that bonds two or more folks.

I sit with my grandmother every chance I get. We smoke cigarettes, drink coffee and watch old westerns. That’s different than a visit, at least in my backwards southern way of looking at things.

With that being said, my reluctance to go sit with a couple I didn’t really know came from a place of preoccupation, not disinterest. I sacrificed just about any semblance of a personal life when I signed on to be the editor of the local paper, and I often spend my days counting seconds as it seems I never have enough daylight to maintain my career and personal relationships.

Old friends have slipped away and my career often keeps me from spending quality time with my family. I might see my grandparents in Tuscaloosa once a month if I’m lucky and I often get too preoccupied to pick up the phone and call them.

I couldn’t imagine myself pursuing any other career, but like any dream you chase in life, it’s going to come at a price.

On this day, though, I’m so glad I stepped away long enough to make a couple of new friends.

I was told explicitly to not name names, so my new friends will remain anonymous, but our first sitting really underscored a notion that we easily overlook in the bustle of modern society.

Her husband suffers from a debilitating medical condition that restricts him to their home in a comfortable recliner. He does have an Alexa nearby that can play Alan Jackson on command, but for a man once extremely active, the world has shrank.

I won’t go into the details of his condition, so he can maintain his anonymity, but despite being disabled, his mind was as sharp as it could be and he was a fantastic conversationalist, who told me stories of what used to be in Starkville and at Mississippi State.

He said he thought the seesaw of tensions between North Korea and the U.S. was “nothing but talk,” and told me about his daddy getting shot in the arm during World War One, before returning home to go to school at Mississippi State.

I was a little disappointed that they didn’t have a wedding picture on hand, but what I did realize they had some many will never have - love.

The couple lives together in the home they originally built in the 60s, and there is a caregiver who is a regular visitor, but just the simple act of sitting and talking about local history and community issues, was met with gratitude from the couple. In my eyes I didn’t do anything special, but in a business like journalism, where you can often be vilified or made the butt of someone’s frustrations, it was nice to have someone see me as a human being.

They didn’t want or ask for anything. My company was enough. Lord knows their company was what I needed at that moment.

Or, just maybe, our paths crossed as the result of more than serendipity. Maybe it was meant to present me the bigger picture.

So what’s the moral here?

The lesson is to not be so self-centered.

Especially on Memorial Day Weekend. We guzzle beer, eat too much and talk too loud over this weekend every year, making it a higher priority than honoring the memories of soldiers who paid the ultimate price for this country. Like many of our nation’s fallen heroes and veterans, there are many out there who sit forgotten.

These people don’t have to be old or disabled. It could be someone new to town or someone who recently lost a loved one. There are opportunities out there to show people they matter and we should work to cast off our selfishness to make sure they know that.

Don’t show your appreciation or sympathies with a Facebook post or a retweet. Do it manually.

I’m not exactly a tambourine-shaking hippie, but I’m a firm believer that a little bit of love can go a long way.

It can be easy for us to focus on our day-to-day lives and put off until tomorrow going to see that elderly relative or family friend.

“I’ll get to it tomorrow, as soon as I can breathe,” I will tell myself … but it’s like I can never catch my breathe.

This couple gave me pause, though. After reflecting on the experience, all I could think about was my own family, who I rarely see because I get so wrapped up in work and other projects.

I often tell the newspaper’s editorial staff, “this is just a job, family has to come first,” and it’s high time I practice what I preach.

So if you are looking for me, I will be seeing my family today and making sure they each know just how much they mean to me.

Ryan Phillips is the executive editor of the Starkville Daily News and Daily Times Leader. The views expressed in this column are his and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of either paper or their staffs.