I don't makes casseroles, but instead bring hummus and crackers from the store. My contribution is shrink-wrapped and dusted with Nabisco shame. I used to bring a melon, when I was younger, and I didn't always have it pre-cut.
It is graver than you think. I don't call when someone has died because I can't think of what to say. I decide to call and then I never do. I didn't really know them all that well. I don't really know people all that well. What if I say something stupid? I hate the phone. After a while, it is too late to call without drawing attention to the fact that I didn't call in the first place. My grandmother, the minister's wife, looks pinch-mouthed at me from ideals I do not meet. Ideals I want to meet.
I don't know most of my neighbors. And if somebody robbed their houses, I probably wouldn't see because I am fixated on my writing or on the contents of the book. I really like a couple of them, but I avoid speaking to them most of the time because I am not sure what to say.
"Hello, have you observed that there is weather outside? Yes, I have observed it, too. Give my regards to your dog."
Instead, I duck into my house, as if under artillery fire, to avoid the unpleasant thought of standing with a forced smile and saying something that I will wish I had not said.
I have tried in earnest to make this social weirdness go away. I have warded against it with Christmas cards and chocolate cupcakes, baked from scratch. I have lead committees, sponsored projects, and one time I even joined the PTA. I have poured my desire to join the beloved community into confections lovingly blended of eggs and cocoa, sugar, vanilla, flour and butter and other things I cannot eat. I have offered them at the altar of human kinship and waited to feel at home in the merry crowd. But I never have.
So, I bring hummus and crackers.
I wonder, sometimes, what my situation might be if I was encouraged by the world to relate to my community in the way that is natural to me? Would I by now have acquired a language that felt honest for comforting those relative strangers whose loved ones have recently died? Would I know what my place was in the throng of smiling, insistent party-goers that invite me to parties each December? I look at my youngest—anxious and awkward with strangers, alive and alight with a book—and I wonder. How do I convey a language for social gestures that I never really learned? One not shrink-wrapped and dusted with shame?
Maybe the brilliant Susan Cain knows. Here is a TED Talk that I just loved on the power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking.