Monday, September 29, 2014

The Power of Shared Experiences

Humans love to have shared experiences.  It gives us a sense of belonging.  This desire for shared experiences will cause us to invite others to join us; or, it will lead us to join with others.  Some join in experiences that are positive, creative, and beneficial.  Others join in experiences that are negative, destructive, and harmful.  Most of us cross back and forth between the two to one degree and another.

Often we seek out and reach for others who have experienced difficulties, trials, obstacles, and sorrows similar to ours.  We may invite them to join with us to some degree.  Not all of these are intrinsically negative experiences.  Many of them produce overtly positive results.  But, the journey through the experience may be painful.  That pain can be alleviated when it is shared with others, when we realize that we are not alone in difficulties.  Often we don’t want to be alone.

In high school I had an experience that brought this home to me in a humorous way.  It was one of those rare days where I didn’t have anything scheduled and I hadn’t come up with some spontaneous activity with my friends or family.  In fact that morning, all of my family was out of the house and many of my friends were busy.  After a quick visit to the local grocery store in my small town, I found a rental movie I hadn’t yet seen.  It was a small miracle since my friends and I had seen almost all of the decent movies that were available.  The title of the movie slips my mind, but it was some sort of modern western that looked slightly promising.

Back at home I put together a few snacks and went to the basement to watch the movie.  It started out fine.  The acting was mediocre but the story line held my attention.  A mystery developed throughout the movie, driving my curiosity.  Despite the overall below average quality of the movie, I was anxious to get to the bottom of the mystery, to get the answer that would bring it all together for the characters and for me.  To my utter disbelief and consternation the movie, in spectacular fashion, failed to answer any of the questions.  Rather, it recycled to the same scene at the beginning of the movie. 

I was physically angry because of the ending.  I felt that I had been cheated of satisfaction and of the time I had spent watching the movie.  I was certain that producers and director of the movie had laughed at the viewers’ expense, knowing that we were angry at our loss of time and money.  Admittedly, I took consolation in knowing that not many people would be fooled into spending time and money on their movie.  Then, I became angry and remorseful, realizing that I was one of the “select” few to do so.

Sitting there seething, looking at the popcorn I had thrown on the floor, I pondered what I should do.  I felt compelled to act.  An idea entered my head and I smiled.  Running upstairs, (because we didn’t have personal cell phones or even a cordless at the time), I called one of my best friends. 

“Hey, guess what?  I just watched an awesome movie.  You should come over and watch it.  I have popcorn.”

Soon he was in the basement with me.  This time, instead of watching the movie intently, I watched his reactions.  The build up of anticipation was evident in his face and body language.  By the end of the movie he was anxious to know the mystery.  He was verbalizing some of the same guesses I had thought to myself earlier.  Then, the ending scene recycled to the beginning scene without giving any answers.

“Wait,” he said, “What happened?”

Then the screen transitioned to the ending credits and his anger blossomed fully.

“What kind of movie is that?  That was stupid.  A waste of my time.”

As he spoke, my own tension eased.  I no longer felt alone.  A friend had experienced the same trial and disappointment as I had.  The world wasn’t a perfect place, but it felt a little better.

“I can’t believe you made me watch that.  Why did you call me over to watch such a stupid movie?” 

The anger in his voice was answered by my smile and twinkle in his eyes.  I said nothing.  Then a similar smile spread across his face.

“Let’s call so and so to come and watch the movie with us.”

We did.  Two other friends joined us to watch the movie.  Their reactions were the same.  Anger followed by a desire to share.  After they watched it we took another trip to the grocery store to replenish our snacks and then called to invite more friends to watch an “amazing” movie.  By day’s end, actually a bit into the night, I had watched that move at least five times.  At the last showing we had around a dozen or so people in my parents’ basement.  The final set of victims or newbies, whichever term you prefer, were upset that we didn’t have time to reach out to anyone else.

The day was amazing.  Each time the movie would end, those who had seen it previously would laugh out loud, congratulating one another on expanding the size of our group.  The new group would transition from anger to a degree of acceptance and belonging.  This is one of my cherished memories from high school.  It took me years to realize why I enjoyed it so much.  It wasn’t the movie.  The movie was terrible.  It wasn’t being mean to my friends.  It was doing something with my friends.  Enjoying an experience with them.  It was seeing how much they enjoyed being included in the group, knowing that when we wanted to share it with someone, we thought of them. 

While I enjoy quiet and solitude more than I did before, I still relish the joy that comes from shared experiences, even if we share them at different times.  I love to talk about my children with other parents.  I love to run races with people and to talk to people who train for and run races.  I love to talk to people who have experienced military training, who know what it means to by TDY or to PCS; or to have to complete something NLT than COB; or to have to go to the MPF to enter someone into DEERS.  I love attending church with family and friends.  I love to be invited to participate in activities with others.  I love to invite them to participate with me.  I love when someone trusts me enough to let me know about their struggles and concerns in life.  I love when I can trust someone enough to share mine.

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