Talking to Strangers
The other night it was hot and humid. I was picking up a fish and chips from a little take out and putting it in my car. There was a man beside me in a nice looking truck and I said "How are you?" at first he said nothing. Then I smiled about to get in my car and he said, "I'm really cranky." I just said "I get like that too sometimes." There was no need for him to be alone in those feelings when he was parked next to the one time queen of crankiness.
Then he told me the story of why. It was a small thing but he was irritated. As he was telling me I could see his wife beside him squirming wishing he would stop talking. We've all been there too. I smiled gently at her too. I listened to him. He needed to tell someone else.
Undoubtedly he had just told her.
And that was ok. I did not judge him. I did not think he was a whiner. I actually admired the fact that he was willing to tell a stranger a story just to get it off his chest.
Then on the way home I thought about the responsibility that comes with asking the question , "How are you?"
As my husband likes to say, " Deanne , if you are going to ask the question you gotta be prepared for the answer?" And you do.
Years ago when I was going through a difficult period I hated it when people would ask "How are you?" I didn't want to lie and I didn't want to tell my story either. But I took the question to heart. I would mostly evade the answer.
For years this made me more careful about asking the question.
Because asking the question brings people back to their own story.
I know it seems just a cordial question that we offer in passing. In reality it is a big question because it seeks to find the experience of another human being. When we ask it, I think it is only right we be prepared to listen.
I know at times my answer has been surprising. I am a bit like the man in the nice truck. Sometimes if I have a story and it's not too heavy I gotta tell it. I too have been him, telling strangers about some small irritation. And having the stranger be a bit bewildered and the person beside me wondering where this conversation is going to go. I knew this man because sometimes I was this man.
It's not so hard sometimes to step into another person's shoes. It can do someone a great favour to quietly listen to their story. So often we pass by before someone gets the chance to answer.
That little encounter brought me back to the importance of a small question. It reminded me of the comfort of talking to strangers. It told me that "How are you? " is an important question, one that is only truly validated if you wait for the answer. It is not a question really for passing someone on the street.
It is a big question that deserves a little listening.
Thanks for reading. Really I am so appreciative that you do, Deanne
- Deanne Fitzpatrick