Have you ever seen a child fling himself into the arms of someone he knows but wasn’t expecting to see? Have you witnessed friends meet accidentally in a neighborhood neither lives in—the dawning recognition and the joy? What about dropping in? When was the last time you knocked on a door without texting ahead? When was the last time someone even tried to drop in on you?
Where I live, New York City, a friend is about as likely to drop in as to start my home on fire. Instead, there is this steady back-and-forth of dates, and cancellations, and postponements until the two of us, exhausted by planning, move into the actual execution of the meeting. And we have a great time, and there are “we should do this more oftens” and all is well. But it’s very choreographed and mannered.
In the Midwest, where I grew up, if we heard a car in the driveway, my mother had the drill down: She sliced some refrigerator dough into cookies on sheets, threw them into the oven, put on a fresh pot of coffee, and sent one of the three children into the powder room with fresh hand towels and Windex.
Praying at the altar of the productive life is eroding our essential humanity.
By the time visitors were out of the car and headed for the doorbell, we looked as composed as the Bennet family in the most recent film version of “Pride and Prejudice.” I’m not as prepped. When someone surprises me—usually a ring of my intercom, though texting two seconds in advance is also fine—I look around the house, at the cat fur, at the piles of cookbooks, print-outs, the dust. I glance down at my baggy dress and even baggier sweater. I might wash my face. But I open my arms to whatever this visit will bring, casting off concerns that my day is about to go off plan. I move into present tense, and I don’t mean with half a heart.
I mean: Ethan’s moving to Honolulu for a new job, and today is the day he’s dropping in and it’s go time. This is our moment.
I mean: Julia’s had a hard day and she never just stops by. What’s on her mind? What can I do?
I mean: Sandra has decided to pick up the phone and call me. She’s 77. If I don’t take this call now, when will I?
I mean: The last time Peter invited me to tea was the last time I heard his voice on the phone. My phone was off, so I didn’t see the call till it was too late. This last one made me afraid. I think that praying at the altar of the scheduled, productive life is eroding our essential humanity.
Do we think that we can control every interaction and be nourished by the social times we schedule? I recently read on Thrive about programming more free time into our days, which I believe is valuable advice. I want to go one step further. I want to allow us to recognize that we should not know everything that is planned in a day, and we should cultivate, not free time, but friends and acquaintances who will work with us to shake things up. I am not at all certain that living my best life means no happy accidents.
How do we retrain ourselves? Last year, I called my friend Hannah in Chicago at the very last moment. I was driving to Minnesota, and it suddenly occurred to me that I was going right through her city. After two texts and one speaker phone call as I hit the Chicago loop, I was soon hugging Hannah closely. We took a walk to Lake Superior, saw fireworks, and I climbed back into the car at 11 that night.
It’s the opposite of “phoning it in.” If I’d sent Hannah an email that said, “Driving through Chicago—thinking of you!” I’d have been coasting on a friendship that means a lot to me. I took a chance on Hannah. But it was okay because I am so engaged with her that I knew a spontaneous visit would be welcomed.
I am not at all certain that living my best life means no happy accidents.
I once owned a tea room in New York’s East Village. It was a sweet little place, and when people asked me why my family opened it, my answer was only half-kidding. “I wanted to have more people dropping in on me.” To this day, former customers write or say to me, “I miss your place. I loved dropping on you.” I know. I loved it, too.
I’d like to see dropping in culture return. “We’re in the neighborhood and thought we’d stop in,” should not be an occasion for eye-rolling, foot-tapping, and a quick run through a laundry list of available excuses we haven’t yet used up.
Please rethink “interruptions,” “drop-ins” and “last-minute tickets.” The walls are easier to put up than take down. But it’s a little piece of life that I miss, and I’m working on clawing it back. It takes two, though, so I’m inviting you all to try it as well. If we really are being present, and learning to push through the bad moments by experiencing them deeply and in the now, can we also not welcome the joy of someone showing up in our life, this very minute?