Saturday, November 14, 2009

Talking to Strangers

When I was little my mom used to dress me in these huge dresses with socks that jingle. Literally everywhere I would go you could hear me jingle down the hall. My mother probably had no idea how humiliating this was as a small girl, her only goal was to keep good tabs on me as I jingled around stores. You see, my mom would continually sit me down and talk to me about the importance of not talking to strangers. While the reiterated words of my mom still ring in my ears today, I just couldn't help the fact that I loved talking to strangers.

We would be at the mall and my mom would be making a purchase transaction and I would be standing next to her patiently. She would be checking out with that pretty plastic card and in that short duration of the transaction I would be gone in a flash. Of course my mother in a panic, is calling my name, looking in between the racks of clothing , and then her gaze falls upon me. There I was sitting next to a nice old man chatting it up. My mother would kindly grab my arm and thank the man for chatting and then scold me for running away and talking to a complete stranger. I will never forget the threats of my mother as she looked me in the eye and said with all honesty," Do you want to be the next face on the milk carton? "

What is even more enjoyable is that not much has changed over the years. I love strangers and I always have.  I get this uncanny delight in meeting new people.  Whether it be on the subway, school, or the airport I love striking up a conversation with the person next to me. While some of my friends would die if they knew that I was the chatty cathy next to them on the airplane, I feel that some people are actually glad that someone is willing to listen to them. I have had coffee, dates, and heard life stories from the most interesting and charming strangers. Yet, perhaps this is where my interest lies, How can a stranger feel so comfortable telling me there most secret and personal of stories? How did I become the lucky one?

I can say that through my many escapades with strangers I have heard stories of struggle, death, and happiness. I feel that for the most part people are just yearning to connect with another human being and if I can be that person for a 2 hr plane ride so be it.  Or maybe it is the way we project ourselves to others. A smile is one of the most welcoming and inviting signs a person could ever give me. I am not saying that all strangers are good, but what I am saying is that some of my greatest life altering moments have been while in the presence of strangers.

I will never forget the woman I sat next to on the plane on the way home from Atlanta after a trip to Boston. I remember as she asked me what I did and if I had a husband. To that I responded in my normal fashion, " I am a medical student at IU, no husband I repel men." With that small gift the woman began to share that she had survived a thirteen story fall from an elevator that had snapped. She talked about her rehabilitation and the new view on life she had received. She told me how it actually had been one of the best gift she had been given. She spoke of her daughter who knowingly married the love of her life who had a congenital heart disease and was dying unless he received a heart transplant. I listened while she taught. There are moments when I think to myself I am so glad I am here right now, how blessed am I, and this was one of those moments. She spoke as if she knew me in such a surreal way. She spoke words of wisdom ... Things that I needed to hear. Words about true love and partnership, words of lost opportunity, and words of living a life of purpose. As we both sat on that plane crying together, I realized that sometimes it is the stranger among us who can reveal the most sincere and honest parts of our being.  

Thus this week I encourage you to step out of your comfort zone and do the unthinkable...Talk to a stranger. With it I hope you can find the sheer delight that I receive from these encounters and more importantly I hope you see that it is one of the most unguarded and real conversations you will ever have, because there are no expectations and no preconceived opinions of you. So go out and meet some strangers!

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