Strangers Non-Fiction

A recently discovered joy for me is talking with strangers.

For as long as I can remember, I have always been uncomfortable meeting new people. Awkward about what to say, uncertain how to act. Looking for an out.

So much energy put into what essentially was a play in one act that no one even came to see.

Miraculously, that has taken a complete 360 since gaining a loving acceptance of my introverted ways. Introverts are not shy, and we want to connect with others. It’s really hard to feel seen when it seems so effortless for so many others. I have always been in awe of those people. Parties are the worse.

Something about growing up in a large family perhaps. Hard to stand out, hard to be heard, hard to feel special. So much competition. So many incredibly wonderful siblings, each special in their own ways.

In recent years, as I have worked at my Buddhist practice and awakening, I’ve discovered that my real joy is one-on-one with someone. As a writer, I am drawn to stories in people.

When I was doing clinical training to be a psychoanalyst, those stories were heartbreaking. So much suffering, most of it caused in their own minds by how they perceived challenges, disappointment, judgments and worse (based on childhood introjects and the repetition of false stories we tell ourselves over years). The college students I counseled taught me how to set my own suffering aside in service to someone else. I was in awe of the depth of their pain. I was invested in their well-being, and so my own ego and countertransference was still baggage to be dealt with.

Just as it still sometimes does with friends, families, co-workers…the people I know. The people strangely it’s sometimes hard being my true self around. The people with whom I desperately want to be my best. An important group, perhaps too important, and just like a large party it can be overwhelming.

Talking to strangers, I’ve discovered, can be more than a simple delight. For me, it is truly a lifesaver during difficult times. There are often so many small, yet profound gifts even in a 5 minute exchange. Most miraculously of all, I find I can be my true self with no effort at all. And I know within a few seconds whether this is a person I simply smile and say hello to or someone with whom I connect deeply though may not even get their name.

This past weekend in Boston for the Marathon those strangers were a lifeline to myself and to humanity. The man I chatted with while waiting for our organic smoothies. He had that special air about him, a joyous and generous soul like my friend Peter. I decided to talk to him. He had so much to share with me about his wife and the book he just bought her, “The Confidence Code.” He shared his observations about how women, no matter how successful and wonderful they may be seem to lack that sense of themselves. His wife, a senior manager at an airline often comes home saying she’s not sure she can keep doing what she does, yet she had been doing so successfully for years. He said it’s similar to what African Americans experience (and he would know). I could relate. He read the book first to make sure it was good before gifting it to her. I said she is lucky to have a husband like him…and he looked deeply into my eyes and said “No, I am the lucky one to have her.”

This conversation along with the one with an Oregon couple who love their rescue dogs as much as I love mine…an elderly street jazz saxophonist whose dissonant notes I complimented and learned a bit about his travels back in the day…and many others. Simple and real exchanges of kindness, intelligence, laughter are precious moments that help me feel truly connected and renew my faith in humanity.

And the opportunities are all around us.  namaste