personal questions.

There were coupons for a free dessert in the break room. Kyle was walking around asking who wanted to go over to the newly-opened restaurant down the street and redeem them. I don't know what kind of crazy people I work with, but none of them did. Do you know what the best kind of food is? FREE food.

I hopped in the passenger seat, and we agreed that those other people were out of their minds.

"So, any big announcements?"

Ugh. His question was vague, but I knew what he meant, because he'd asked something similar before. I'm a youngish woman, recently married: he's asking whether I'm pregnant yet. This is kind of a personal question, right? Kyle has been my coworker for seven years, but I think we've exchanged fewer than a couple hundred words. I'm gonna need a few thousand words between us before that line of questioning doesn't seem inappropriate. But then again, I'm a private person.

Being a private person has made me a master of deflection. Jokes are my favorite way to go, but I also employ questions and general vaguery.

"No, nothing to announce." See, this is a bit vague. This just means I have nothing to tell random people, and is silent on whether anything is going on.

"Well, has it been discussed?"

"We are open to the possibility." More vaguery. Since I have gone off birth control, this has been my official answer. It's pretty effective, because it really gives the conversation nowhere to go. Time for me to use a question to get the spotlight off my reproductive plans. "What about you, any big announcements?"

"Me? Oh, no, no." A pause, but luckily no silence is too awkward for me. "Well, I guess it'll get out eventually. I'm getting divorced."

ABORT ABORT ABORT. While talking about an acquaintance's personal issues is much preferred over discussing my own, I felt unprepared. But it's cool, I can do this.

"Ah, that sucks, man. I'm sorry to hear that."

Phew! The rest of the trip did not require much from me. He talked about lawyers, online dating, meetup groups for single parents, when they were going to break it to the kids. I responded enough to show that I was listening. I have no idea if he felt better or worse having unloaded on me a bit, but I feel okay about my part.

And that is kind of the secret to Stephen Ministry. People in general are really uncomfortable with other people's pain. They have that same reaction that I had: look for an exit, change the subject, make a joke, offer a platitude. So for someone to just give an ear for a while can be hard to find. The fact that he came out and told me reveals that this is something very close to the surface. When you're thinking about something all the time, all it may take is an innocent question for it to burst out of you. Or maybe he's just the opposite of a private person, I don't know him very well at all.

Oh, and the restaurant was closed until dinner time, so there wasn't even any dessert.

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