At 3 a.m. one day this week, a fire started at the Ambassador Hotel in South Dallas. Being just three blocks from my condo, I noticed an amber fog when I took the dog out, but didn’t smell the smoke and went back to bed. Like most of us, I found out through the news.
They say it started on an upper floor of the abandoned hotel. How (or even who) started it… that story may never be known. And like so many unanswered questions in our lives, whose truth lay in a pile of rubble, we move on.
This is a photo from my walk into downtown Saturday. The bricks no longer obstruct the skyline, but now lay in a dense stack.
This is not a story about a fire, though. It’s not a story about the Ambassador Hotel either. In fact, it’s not really a story at all.
It’s a reminder that the world is constantly changing, oftentimes unexpectedly, leaving behind rubble in its wake. It’s about preparing for change by deeply exploring the people in our lives, before they lay in front of us lifeless, unexpectedly.
Each person we encounter is familiar & mysterious. On one hand, they reveal themselves in common ways. We call it identity, qualities that make that person unique to us. The “people-person,” the “life of the party,” the “thinker,” the “martyr.” These personality traits provide insights into the drives and motivations we adopt to “make meaning of the world.” But that’s not my concern here.
On the other hand, each person exists as a sea of unknowns. Diving deeper into this sea, we can explore the way people “make sense of the world.” It is here we grow deeper in our relationships.
If we only concern ourselves with what we see, we are left with a restlessness, a longing for something deeper. In our relationships with others, most of us carry these defenses like riot shields, fearful of the splash-back of that high dive. We go through life restless in the presence of those we love, because we never explore the unknowns, the deeper ways we “make sense of the world.”
When I look at the ruins of the Ambassador Hotel, I am reminded of the unknown stories that rest in those bricks. Of the underground tunnel connecting the old carriage house to the reception lobby, that during Prohibition was used to run booze to the speakeasy. Of the lights that twinkled from top floor windows late into the night. Of the TV production trailers that made the parking lot their home while “Queen of the South” episodes were filmed.
As I look over my camera roll, I can’t find a photo of the Ambassador before the fire. Why should I have one? It didn’t have the same significance when it was “always there.” Now with it gone, I realize all these stories will fade away.
When we lose something unexpectedly we lose access to the “sea of unknowns.” While we are living, we must lay down the shields we carry and go deeper in dialogue with others.
How can we do about it?
We can start using the Ambassador as a model for deepening dialogue. Each person is a hotel of many floors with many stories to tell. Try starting with three floors, calling them “self,” “role,” and “organization.” First, let your shield down, be vulnerable, and use this framework to jump in. Let’s go floor by floor.
Self: Ask the question, “How do you think of yourself in relation to __________?” The blank can be family, work, society, or even something as BIG as existence itself.
Role: Ask the question, “How do you think of your role in (relation to) __________?” Again, we are exploring the ecosystems we are a part of — family, work, society, etc.
Organization: This one is a little simpler to ask, but more difficult to answer. “How do you make sense of __________?” The blank is the same again. This time you will notice, the relation to “yourself” is not included.
You may find it helpful to share this with those close to you, as a way to prepare them for deeper dialogue. And then… try it out.
Happy diving 🙂