A wry smile crept ‘cross her face . . . 

check out line

Liz stood next in line at the checkout counter.

The cashier greeted her warmly, “And how are you today?”

Liz’s response was unique:

“I would be doing well if my taxes weren’t so high!”

The comment caught everyone by surprise. The woman behind the counter didn’t know what to say.

But one by one, people in the line behind Liz began to comment.

“I’m having trouble making ends meet working two part time jobs and my wife works too!”

“I wish someone would ask me what I thought about their tax proposals!”

“Yeah. I wish I could tell someone in Washington where they could put their tax increase!”

Within the span of 30 seconds, Liz had created a conversation. To most it would seem an odd way to get a discussion going, everyone reaching for their wallet to pay for their groceries.wallet

But that would be the key: Liz started a conversation about a topic that hit people right there—in their wallet.

All of us carry on conversations about every day life that hit us right where we are. Robin and I spend an hour over coffee most Saturdays, discussing the week, future plans, or the morning paper. My friend Janel tells me that “every conversation with you is a teaching opportunity.” To be honest, talking about this life always makes us ponder the next.

I travel quite a bit. Some weeks, airports are my second home. When I spot a soldier in uniform, if the opportunity is appropriate, I reach out to shake their hand, thanking them for serving the rest of us. Conversations take place wherever we may be with whomever we see. Conversing with another sometimes starts with a simple “Thank you.”

Speaking of airports, I even started a conversation while being patted down by the TSA. TSA pat downLet’s just say it was not the highlight of my week. It seems something on my clothing set off the alarms. Being led to a small room with two official personnel I wondered how I might make the most of a bad situation.


So I started asking the two men questions. Both were happy for the diversion. I found out what names they had been called by passengers that week (words inappropriate for this essay). One spoke of his Army service. The other wondered aloud if I had touched fertilizer somewhere. He didn’t want to say the word but it was obvious to this American post 9-11, “bomb” was the term he had in mind.

When the procedure was complete both men thanked me for my calm demeanor, even if the whole thing was uncomfortable. “And thanks for talking with us like we’re normal people,” one added. I chuckled and said I was pretty easy to get along with.  Exiting the room the Army veteran announced to all within earshot, “Make sure this man gets wherever he needs to go.”

All because of a conversation.

Robert FrostRobert Frost created poetry out of conversation. Frost believed that poetry should sound like the speech from where it originates. The art of talking like a New Hampshire farmer became the frame for Frost’s poetic form. In his own words

I listened to the men with whom I worked, and found that I could make out their conversation as they talked together out of ear-shot, even when I had not plainly heard the words they spoke. When I started to carry their conversation over into poetry, I could hear the voices . . . It was the sense of sound . . . [making me] able to write poetry. [1]

What strikes me about all these conversations is that one thing is necessary. A VP of marketing services for the high end shoe retailer Cole Hann states the obvious,

People themselves are the ‘new media,’ word-of-mouth is the ‘new advertising,’ and personal endorsement trumps any marketing claim. [2]

conversationConversation starts with you and me. Sometimes we struggle to talk with anyone. Our thoughts and lives consume us. But then we pause, consider, hear our own voice, and hear the voices of others. We do not have to agree nor do we have to disagree disagreeably.

I suspect the different points of view Liz encountered were civil but distinct. And if I know my friend Liz, I suspect a wry smile crept across her face as she heard voices awaken around her. 

You see, Liz is a professor of communication.

Personally seeking truth, wherever it’s found, Dr. Mark Eckel converses, communicates, and chats with students and professors at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Peter j. Stanlis, “The Conversationalist as Poet,” Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher (ISI, 2007), xiv, xv.

[2] Chidi Achara, “The (Not So Hidden) Persuaders,” Comment, Spring, 2013, 57

Like this Article? Please Share:


  1. Good job Mark Eckel. Quotable: “We do not have to agree, nor do we have to disagree disagreeably.” Excellent, quippy way to capture that, and I’ll add that we don’t have to disagree in a feeble, wimpy way that dishonestly equivocates on truth, either, which I think is part of the heavy lifting of relationship and fellowship investment. Being firm enough to advocate for a conviction *and* graciously conceding strong points in an opponent’s counter argument *and* insisting on picking up the coffee tab is a difficult social grace to master and rare thing to get reciprocated. I hypothesize: The holy grail of relational effectiveness is that each party is trying his darndest to be persuaded by his opponent’s perspective. That is, in humility they both don the hat of evangelist and prospective convert. Even should neither party ultimately move from their original convictions, they both have mutually respected each other enough to confidently believe that their opponent really tried, and that effort represents the essence of honoring a key theological imperative — respecting the image of God. Therein lies the opportunity for the next conversation.

  2. I read the essay and the above reviews. You have said it all and I have nothing of import to contribute. However, I am so delighted that you share your “bright” mind!! :>) My day is always more complete with a word from you!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *