I LIKE talking to strangers!
3,000 miles away and yet I can hear my mama grit her teeth and shake her worrisome head as she reads this.
It’s true though.
I have this innate feeling of kinship with just about everyone including those I share a sidewalk with, or sit next to on the train. I’m a person….you’re people…let’s take a moment and acknowledge each other’s existence with a nod, a smile, or even a brief conversation.
What’s the harm?
Most of the time there is none despite what
relevant, trustworthy, news outlets will have you believe….
Recently I watched a TED TALK presentation by Kio Stark who is the author of “When Strangers Meet”. The talk is titled “Why we should talk to strangers” and she puts forth a strong case in opposition of the stranger danger mentality.
She challenges us to use our senses over our fears which will lead to what sociologists call “fleeting intimacy” (a brief experience that has emotional resonance and meaning) and then depending on how comfortable the situation feels allow ourselves to be vulnerable by disclosing something personal. She goes on to say,
“Sometimes in conversation, it comes up, people ask me, “What does your dad do?” or, “Where does he live?” And sometimes I tell them the whole truth, which is that he died when I was a kid. Always in those moments, they share their own experiences of loss. We tend to meet disclosure with disclosure, even with strangers.”
I know, I know…. This business of talking to strangers just escalated from saying hello to Joe Schmo on the bus to sitting on Oprah’s couch pretty damn quick.
Even while I stand on my soapbox and declare my desire to know the unknowns I often have my head buried in my phone, or avoid making eye contact in case it sets off a hidden green light signaling that person to ask me for money, a cigarette, or directions. None of which I can provide and I’m left with just unexplained guilt.
But it’s in Kim’s closing statement that really caught my attention,
“So, here it is. When you talk to strangers, you’re making beautiful interruptions into the expected narrative of your daily life and theirs. You’re making unexpected connections. If you don’t talk to strangers, you’re missing out on all of that.”
Yes! It’s so easy to forget, but what may seem like an annoyance can actually be a beautiful interruption…a chance to connect and if nothing else, learn something about yourself, or the world around you.
This brought to mind one of my favorite unexpected connections.
It had been close to a year after leaving my ex-husband and by this point I had been feeling kinda low about what my life at the time looked like. Poor credit called for a hefty deposit, so I scraped up every penny I could in order to move into a grand space on Klump Ave in North Hollywood (NOHO) with a friend.
Unfortunately neither of us knew that we’d be moving in with the worst roommates ever! I’m not referring to those of the people variety. Maybe you don’t know this yet, but the devil walks this earth in the form of <stands and shakes fist in the air> BEDBUGS!
After only 7 days of living there and after the ink on our lease had certainly dried we learned that the popcorn ceiling of our oh so perfect Klump casa was infested with them. I’ll save the details of this tragic tale for another time.
In short…the first two months were a shit show and it was during that time my company changed the bonus structure which meant a few hundred dollars less on my check each month.
I was struggling to keep up with rent/bills for the “grand” space that I couldn’t afford to fill (I didn’t keep anything from my marriage outside of personal items).
I was still sleeping on the futon my sister bought for me which also doubled as a place to lay my entire wardrobe on, because otherwise the fold of the bed would drag you in and destroy your back while you slept.
Eggs and tortillas were my daily feast, or an occasional nosh of the roomies hot dogs and ramen stash (I owe you, CB! And these days I can afford to repay your generosity with something classy like all beef dogs and well…there isn’t nothing quite like cheap ramen. It’s just so tasty!)
While flailing to stay afloat during my first real shot at independent adulting I was night owling as a 21 year old and making enemy’s with my liver. Having a blast no less, but I wasn’t taking care of myself and I became frustrated with how NOT GREEN it was looking on the other side of the fence now that I was there.
So you get the picture, right? I’m broke, drowning, and disappointed in myself. I knew it was going to be hard, but maybe for like a month or two TOPS. I was a year out and felt like I’d taken several steps to nowhere. Awesome.
So mopey I was on the train heading from Hollywood to NOHO like I did every night after work. Feeling sorry for myself I decided to spend the 15min walk home from the station with my thoughts instead of swiping right or left on my phone.
I needed some love, but not the Tinder kind.
Some self-love and there were too many distracting shiny things on my phone, so I would put it away and slink home to my “bed” hopefully without running into someone I knew and potentially crying them a river.
It was around 1030pm when I arrived at the last stop…my stop, so any hustle or bustle had died down by then. I wasted no time and briskly walked down the quiet lifeless street. It was a chilly night for LA, so with each step I grew more anxious to get home. The light had just turned red at the intersection where I would cross into my neighborhood. I looked straight ahead as I waited when a man walked up from behind and stood next to me.
My keen peripheral skills sized up the gent and I quickly categorized him as potential homeless? He was tall, wore a knee length parka, a hat sat on his peppered curly hair, and finger-less gloves covered his hands. The light soon changed and without turning my head to acknowledge him I began to cross, as did he.
Side by side we went, so I wasn’t surprised when I heard him say hello. I hoped he’d picked up on my anti-social ques, but I suppose it’s rude to share a crosswalk while seemingly being the last two people on earth and not share a pleasantry. I turned my head to say hello and made eye contact….EYE CONTACT.
And you know what happened next??
He didn’t ask for a thing! Instead he offered me one of the best kimchi tacos that he’d just purchased around the corner from the best kimchi taco truck in LA!
Or so he claimed…I politely declined, but not without a chuckle. It was then that I could have wished him a goodnight and scurried ahead, but something about the stranger offering a Korean taco over a ‘how d’ya do’ had me curious aaaaand it was apparent that we were headed in the same direction.
We engaged in the usual small talk. I learned that he’s a poet and performed while accompanied by instruments, one of which being the violin, that he played. After a few minutes he stopped walking, because we had reached the street he needed to turn on. He asked that if before we parted he could share a poem with me? Knowing my place was just a few blocks away I relaxed a bit and agreed to listen.
Now remember I told you he read his poetry over music? Well suddenly this man became larger than life and every motion of his arms or gesture of his hands was more animated than the last.
He mimed each of the pretend instruments while he hummed the melody’s. There we were. Under a streetlight on the corner, surrounded by apartment buildings with not another soul around. He closed his eyes, leaned his head back and played his invisible violin while starting to cite his poem.
“Never did I think
it would take this long
to find where it is
It may look as though I’m standing still
I am standing strong.”
ARE YOU SERIOUS RIGHT NOW TALL STRANGE MYSTERY MAN?? Is what I was thinking. The poem finished with a big crescendo and maybe a rocket or some fireworks? I don’t remember, but I will never forget his first few lines.
After he finished he looked at me with a silent TA-DA gaze. I thanked him and without going into too much detail told him it was exactly what I needed to hear. He understood and was pleased. I reached out to shake his hand and officially introduce myself. He shook it back and said,
“Thanks for listening, Katie May. My name is Prayer and my message is to elevate love. We all need more of it”.
And with that he walked off into the night.
I stood in awe and glanced around hoping someone witnessed that amazing shit along with me, but nope…just me.
Once home I scrambled some eggs, sat down on the borrowed stool from our neighbor, looked around at our baron apartment and with gratitude I wrote Prayers words down.
I ran into him a few weeks later at a local watering hole and was happy to verify that he was not just a figment of my imagination.
I often think of my unexpected connection with him and when I start to feel like I’m standing still I remember that I’m really standing strong. There are times even now when I think I should be further along. Then I tell myself to settle down, because each step forward, big or small, is just that…forward.
And recognizing this tells me I’m right where I belong.
Shine on, friends. Xx
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