I sat sipping coffee with a friend in Addis Ababa, the sun setting on one of Africa’s pulsating capital cities. Women in high heels and business suits teetered along the gravel roads outside the window as jam-packed white and blue minibuses streamed by and men in tattered sandals hawked cigarettes and chewing gum among the crowds making their way home.
“How’s your family?” he asked delicately, his words punctuated in that distinctly East African singsong. “They must miss you when you’re so far away.”
My Kenyan companion was not far from his home in Nairobi, but distance is distance and he seemed to understand the plight of being an international flight away from the people who brought us into the world.
“I don’t talk to them much,” I admitted, with my eyes flickering towards the bustle of activity outside our cafe window, ashamed of how long it had been since I had last spoken to my parents. How quickly I get caught up in work, parties, traveling, writing, and making new friends, I thought. Wrapped up in my own little world and utterly disconnected from the ones who matter most.
He paused, a thoughtful twinkle in his eyes. “Just give them a call tonight. Two minutes. The things you can say in two minutes!”
He was right. Taking a big step towards improving an important relationship does not have to be a long or complicated process. When a wall of silence descends from harbored emotional obstacles – petty or seemingly insurmountable, we tend to over-analyze how to repair or reignite ties with our mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and lovers.
Yet we can say so many things to one another in just two minutes.
We can say “I love you.” We can break up. We can share a good idea. We can announce news of an exciting promotion. We can congratulate someone. We can make a promise. We can break a promise. We can teach something. We can learn something. We can put our ego aside and say we are sorry. We can forgive.
Two minutes can break the silence. The silence that digs like nails into our hearts and fosters an uneasy bitterness, which even an honest, two-minute conversation can begin to resolve.
If we can set aside only two minutes, big changes can happen in our lives. Communicating the most fundamental messages is not time-consuming. We just have to create space for that communication in order to connect, or reconnect, with our loved ones. We have to make a conscious effort to check-in on the other people we share this planet with, especially the ones closest to our hearts.
That night, I polished off my coffee and hugged my friend good night, genuinely grateful for his courage to push me to improve an aching relationship in my life. Lost in thought, I picked my way across the gravel to my hotel, where I later sat with my mouse hovered over the call button on Skype.
Then I stopped over-thinking and over-analyzing and I called my parents for the first time in 2 months. We broke the icy wall of silence that had descended between us across the Atlantic Ocean, and I let the warmth of their love reassure me I had done the right thing.
And my friend was right: it only took two minutes.