Conversations are, for me, like getting to lick the bowl after mom has made chocolate frosting. They are generally a treat, and when mom was in a generous mood, she would leave more around the edges, leading to a more satisfying experience. When she didn't, then there was a lot more scraping with a spoon and the rewards were much more limited. These are the kind of conversations that tend to circle around topics like the weather or the day of the week. Discussing concrete realities that are best described by math don't tend to bring a lot of joy. Still, the opportunity can still be a value-added enterprise. Having a two minute discussion on the plight of the local sports franchise is a way to connect with those who might otherwise be ignored. "Whew, it's another hot one, isn't it?" or "Almost Friday," send a message that we are, somehow all in this together.
And then there are those interactions that are best described via our frosting analogy this way: Mom tells you there is a can of Betty Crocker ready-to-spread double fudge that she just doesn't need. It's yours. Dig in. This is how I feel when I get to go to my annual eye doctor appointment. For some years now, I have been happy to heed the call when his office rings me up. Sure, I still harbor some of those little anxieties about getting older and losing my once vibrant health. In this case, I fully expect to be told that my eyeballs are fine, it's just the optic nerves connecting them to my brain that are frayed and in need of replacement. I don't expect good news from doctors.
Except this one. Starting with the simple exercise of the exam, looking at a scramble of letters in ever-decreasing fonts, he gives me praise for each line attempted and commiseration for those missed. Since it's our family eye doctor, there is always an inquiry into the health and well-being of the rest of the brood, and then we are off like a shot into topics ranging from favorite cheeseburgers to Mel Brooks. I came to the realization that I may have been having all these entertaining dialogues with my dentist if not for the fact that he had his hand in my mouth so much of the time. As long as we kept to the pace of the exam, Doctor Thornton and I were free to wander, conversationally. On a visit about a year ago, we did a full half hour on the films of Alfred Hitchcock, and still had time to upgrade my prescription. Ultimately, once the checkup had been concluded and we moved on to the business of choosing new frames, my wife came in and we spent another half hour kibitzing with the staff and trying on a hundred different spectacles. The good doctor had moved on at this point, chatting up his next patient. Lucky stiff.