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


pixie dust

pixie dust
My first grade haircut: the pixie. It was overwhelming, and sort of magical.
At least I think it was supposed to be.
first grade
My mom made a big deal about it. Won’t this be fun!
Afterwards a celebration with a Creamsicle shake bigger than me at the local diner where she worked.
She was so happy and seemed proud of me…of my haircut.

Exactly why this haircut was such a wondrous thing was not clear to me. But who was I to pass up a special moment with just me and my mom. It was ALL about ME!

Yet even at 6 my inner dialogue asked, why are you the one who needs the haircut?
No one talked about my older sister chopping her long straight blonde hair.
We both once had the same short haircut when we were younger. I told myself it’s probably because she’s older (even though it was only by a year and a half).
Or the fact my mom was always telling me to brush my hair because it looked ‘strubbily.’
So I cut my hair and she was happy, and seemed happier with me.

Some four decades later, the pixie became a symbolic part of my transformative journey. In recent years I was pleased to reclaim my own long blonde hair.
Even the tedious monthly coloring to hide the grey felt like taking control of being the best me.

But at some point I started looking forward to my snowy white roots. I just stopped covering them up.
They couldn’t grow fast enough, I wanted more of my natural hair color. It had been so long since I even knew what that might be.
Why did I think hiding my natural hair color made me more presentable?

Many discussions about going grey, ranging from ‘do it, just cut it all off’ from women with radiant grey hair to ‘sure eventually, but not now’ from younger friends just fed my uncertainty. But exactly what was stopping me? Why was I afraid to be my natural (read: real) self?

Today I decided to cut my hair. A quick Google search on why Buddhist monks shave their heads was the final inspiration. It represents cutting off the three poisonous attitudes. Confusion, which creates ignorance. Hostility, which causes suffering.
Attachment, the empty pursuit of happiness through things and appearances (delusion).

I kept my eyes closed the entire time. I happily chatted away with my stylist. I admitted to her that I may hate it at first but I am fine with that, and she shouldn’t be concerned. A quick consult with the colorist and all agreed absolutely no coloring was needed to blend anything. My glorious grey was peeking through everywhere and looking perfectly fine. Any remaining color would be gone soon enough with the next haircut or two.

That little 6 year old girl was finally empowered.
I feel like I just shed a lot of unnecessary weight I’ve been carrying around for too long. new pixie


Stuck in the Middle

stuck in the middle
I confess.  I was a middle child.  color harrier
But you can hold your groans and knowing looks.
Unless you are a middle child and so, of course, understand.
While it’s true I was a middle child during my formative years.
Later I became the second oldest of six children.
Which may be why I excel at being #2.
As long as who I am is recognized and valued by #1.
Lucky for me, I have an older sister who has shown me the way.
So middle child is not what defines me.  The journey is undefinable.
Who I am is the solid rock at the center of life’s rippling waters.
I am [the rock] stuck in the middle of that pond.
The journey is The Middle Way.
Rising above the water to return back to that authentic place.