Dear Stranger, Tell Me Your Story…
I want to know what’s between us.
I used to be an exceptionally extroverted person. I would strike up a conversation with just about anyone standing next to me in a grocery store line. I knew no strangers.
True story: I met my best friend while waiting in line for a beer at a concert in Mexico. Five years ago.
The last couple of years, though, have brought a weird shift in my life toward introversion. I can’t really explain why it happened, but it did. I like to keep to myself now. I’ve become much more quiet. Being the biggest, loudest person in the room used to just happen. Now, I would loathe it. I like the outside edges.
Chatty people are now a dicey proposition for me. I’ve tried to figure out how to deal with them. Sometimes, I’m in line at the grocery store and someone strikes up a conversation with me when I don’t necessarily feel like speaking. I’m generally pleasant. However, I will horribly admit that many times I’m annoyed. I just want peace and quiet, even in a loud grocery store.
This evening, on the way home from work I stopped at the bookstore to pick something up. I wandered over to one of my favorite sections and saw a lady standing there flipping through a book that I had read. Something in me felt compelled to give her a recommendation on the book and to let her know that I enjoyed it. Then I regretted it.
She talked to me for a few moments about other books and authors that she liked and why she was in that section and what led her to pick up that book. I nodded. I “mmmm hmmmed.”
I was mildly annoyed for no reason. About five minutes after I left the conversation, I felt like a complete asshole.
I had totally checked out of a conversation that I started. Who does that?
This was a nice, sweet, smart woman who was merely sharing her story of a friend who thought she might enjoy Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project. Yes, I checked out of a conversation with a stranger about happiness. Asshole of the Year. Right over here.
All she was looking for was a moment of human connection. I don’t know why she needed it. That doesn’t matter. But it was a basic need and I was too self absorbed with my own needs (just get me out of this section) to realize it.
Beyond just taking a moment to be kind and listen for three minutes, I missed an opportunity.
People have stories to tell. Interesting ones. Ones rich in life experience, perspective and wisdom.
We stand to learn something from just about everyone. It’s up to us to figure out what it is.
A couple years ago, I sat at the bar at a favorite restaurant and was intrigued by a rather plain looking woman. I couldn’t tell you what about her intrigued me but I knew something good would come of a conversation with her.
My then husband and I chatted with her a little bit. When I went home, I took a few details from the very brief exchange and filled in the rest of her story. It was the first thing I had written in 10 years.
She gave me back my writing. Imagine if I had missed that. Imagine if I had decided to be an asshole that day and just ignored her presence.
I want to take time to hear other people stories. I know there are amazing ones out there and people who want to tell them. The need for human connection common to everyone. That need allows us to find what else is common between us. There’s always something.
So, stranger, tell me your story.