Onions and Friends...

The conversation was ranging and enjoyable.  We had been talking for more than an hour, as typical for me, when there was a change in the eye and the tone of the voice.  We had just shifted.  It is not new that this takes place, but it is not always observed by both parties.  The topic is irrelevant, but the process is always the same.  Surprises come as you get closer to the issues that have merit. 

We talked and the questions come, and they are joined with the answers.  Ring by ring we proceed. Here is an interesting note.  The rings have a meat layer which is thick, but also a thin membrane which proceeds it.  In a conversation it is the “permission” layer.  That point of vulnerability that must be obtained before going to the actual issue behind it.  Some will not pay attention and will simply blunder past the signals of resistance and the result is a damaged relationship.  There are indeed times and people that are allowed to do this.  They are specific and only used in a time of great distress.  For example, the fireman that is taking the small girl out of the burning home that is in great danger as she is concerned for her pet.  The Fireman will continue while judging the amount of time needed to rescue both, then will choose the girl if the timeframe is done.  The same with a vet that is doing a procedure on an animal will continue the exam ignoring the angry protests of the pet until finished.  This type of act is needed in these types of situations.  Blundering across another’s vulnerable story to put your own there or diminish theirs is an uncouth and common thing done by the less skilled among us.  It is actually part of the learning process for us all. 

The twist comes when there is more than one center, and you didn’t know it.  As onions have different value for different people and different situations.  For the making of Onion Rings for an appetizer, you need rings.  For soup makers your needs are simply for a chopped onion.  As such the people that sell these onions sort them into a few types.  Single Center. 1-3 Centers, 3-5 Centers.  The 1-3 Yellow onion is the common restaurant and grocery store version.  The 3-5 Center version is commonly known as a “chopper”, so processors use them.  The price reflects the value.  It is the same for friends and conversations.  Some are simply a one-track conversation, others are more wide ranging in their topics and some are all over the map.  These folks will be lots of fun but never focus.  The others may have good value on a few or a single topic, but then be of little value if you need specific knowledge.

So too, when they are wounded and vulnerable and you are trying to find out what is going on.  You may think you have it going in the right direction and then find out it is only one of a few topics that need addressed.  I have been caught off guard by the introduction of these additional topics as I had not expected them to be connected… and yet they were.  If you have cut a Red Onion in half, you will know what I am talking about.  Most all of them are multiple center onions.  This is fine as mostly they are a decorative item in a salad or some other dish.  It is less fine to get to the center of a problem in the story of your friend.  Or yourself.  You may not even realize that it is there at the level it is until someone else peels back the covering layers to expose it.

In my own case, I was pretty aware, but had a list of reasons to not show them.  I would also use them as diversions to keep the conversations from getting to close to the topics that needed to remain hidden.  I got quite good at it.  I would even open the layer to a side topic, intentionally to act as a way to divert the conversation away from the actual pain I was in.  My skill level is quite high.  If you have read the CS Lewis book “The Screwtape Letters” you will see the actions taken by Screwtape to divert his charge with the thought of hunger.  Very deft trick indeed.  It works on children as well.  Perhaps you too have done the thing, to avoid the hard conversation.  Perhaps simply because you know that person to be shallow and incapable of the demands that the story expects of the listener.

An interesting side note is that while I may have believed that about someone, I have also been very wrong about them as well.  I simply didn’t give them a chance.  Stories of great daring do in times of darkness and pain that would take out a lesser soul.  Stories of sorrow and struggle and of a duration that is the stuff of legend, and yet they are living life reasonably carefree.  It is only a little scratch to get to the story that you know is real and yet unbelievable.  Stories of a life that has the drama and struggles and sorrows and yet a resolve and resulting sweetness that they will even allow you to hear of them.  Soon you are humbled by the shame of believing such are inadequate for your own tales.  Soon enough you are also humbled by the ability of them to survive let alone thrive in the living of it.  Gracious is not the same as shallow.

How then will I know the centers of the one I see?  Well, the onions are sorted with an optical and infra-red scanner.  So it is with us.  We would use the words and the tones instead of infra-red, and who among us can know the intentions, even our own.  The shape of the conversation, the turns it takes and the time allowance are all part of the scanning that is going on.  There is a reason that you call that one person when in turmoil.  And other reasons you don’t call someone else.  Perhaps you don’t feel worthy, or perhaps they are not.  Some people are good at carrying boxes. Some are well suited to carry burdens of a different sort.  You know which one to call and when.  

What are we to do with this? This observation of tones and body language?  Well, keep in contact and add some new stories.  Perhaps they didn’t tell about that time in the dessert as it hadn’t come up yet.  Perhaps the introduction of your own vulnerability will elicit one from them in return.  Perhaps your own story of failure will bring out the opportunity to hear theirs.  You know the saying, “first liar doesn’t stand a chance”, well it works a bit here as well.  Go first and see the result.  If nothing, perhaps there is none, perhaps it isn’t time, or perhaps you are not the one. It works in reverse as well.  All good, as you don’t have to save the world.  The rest of the world is not needing all of your stories.  Baggage from the past is simply a story that has not found a listener that will also clear up the issue of injustice.  That is the reason it stays around.  Injustice is the gate that when opened up will let out the pressures that have been building.  It is the same with an onion.  The onions produce gas and to keep it in a container is hard.  If you have put a cut onion in the fridge you will know when you open the door.  

So then, it comes to this.  Your old wounds give off a gas that alerts others to its existence.  Some will notice sooner than others. Be aware as both the teller of, and the listener too, another one’s stories.  You may be surprised at what you find. 


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