We arrived at my son's friend Michael's house on time and walked resolutely to the front door, trying not to think about what the next two hours might hold in store for us. We rang the bell and immediately a cacophony of children's voices rose up from the other side of the door. Michael opened it, and we walked in. Not an adult in sight. Hmmm. There was still a chance to turn around and make a run for it.
Subconsciously, we must have decided to play nice because our feet carried us further into the house. Michael's mom appeared at last, greeted us, and led us to the kitchen where her husband was busy with dinner preparations. He was standing at the sink, back turned toward the room, and he remained that way for quite some time. Even my introverted self thought it was strange that he did not turn around and greet his guests, especially when he was meeting us for the first time. But who was I to judge? I hadn't really wanted to come; perhaps he hadn't really wanted us to come.
The evening had all the earmarks of being awkward at best, downright painful at worst. We stood around the kitchen island making small talk about I don't know what with the wife as the husband did his best to ignore us. It was going to be a long two hours.
Then Alex appeared.
Michael's family thankfully had invited another family to dinner. More people meant less burden on me to carry on a conversation. We learned rather quickly that only the dad and son had been able to come as the wife and daughter were sick. (Or were they? It's not like that excuse hadn't crossed my mind.) It didn't matter. With Alex's appearance, the evening was saved.
While introverts may not be great at talking, they are rather adept at listening. Put an interesting person who likes to tell stories in the mix, and the introvert is going to be put at ease. At least that's how it works for this introvert. And Alex filled the bill.
Turned out he was an artist. Not just an "I like to paint in my free time" kind of artist, but an actual painter who made his living selling his artwork. He told of many of the places he travels to selling his art and showed us pictures of his paintings on his phone. Born in France, raised in Canada, he seemed to have an unlimited supply of fascinating stories, which took the pressure off of me. All I had to do was listen. And listen I did.
Fortunately for me, our conversation filled up our time, and the game playing that had been threatened in the invitation was successfully avoided. We all had children to get to bed at a reasonable hour before school the next day, so we said our thank you's and murmured "we had a lovely time" before bidding adieu and scurrying out the door.
So, the evening I had been dreading turned out to be a pleasant one. Sure, I felt a bit inadequate after listening to Alex's stories, but I had enjoyed the stories nonetheless and appreciated being in the company of someone whose life experiences were so different from my own. At one point in the evening, someone mentioned being in awe of people with his kind of talent, to which he replied, "Everyone has a talent. It's just a matter of finding it."
And, of course, recognizing it when you do.