It’s always been a thing.
I can’t help it, but people tell me things.
Complete strangers share their deep secrets, sorted stories, and life tidbits with me. I can’t help it. I think I have a sign on my forehead….
Read this and let me know if you do this…
Here’s what happened…
Last week, on my way home from a writing festival, I stopped at a popular shopping area to meet a friend for a quick coffee.
The plan seemed simple enough, but I should know that when things are just ticking along, something (or someone), will happen.
It was a Sunday of a long weekend.
People are rushing everywhere. The din of voices is swallowed up by the extra tall ceilings so everything buzzes at a low-grade constant hum.
Every once in a while, the tinny voice of the PA budges in to announce a deal or a parking violation… No one listens. No one cares. The disquiet separates us and forces us into our own little world amongst the masses.
So, along with the crowd, I did my shopping and then headed for the concession area.
My friend, who I hadn’t see since before covid, was there. Waiting. Patient.
We grabbed our coffee and went to sit down for a quick catch-up.
Well, there was no room anywhere. There were lots of overflowing shopping carts, hungry kids, and frazzled individuals who looked like they wanted to be anywhere but where they were.
We stood there for a minute, trying to decide our next move, when a young woman (I found out she was 28–at first I thought she was maybe 20) with two sleeping toddlers in a stroller said…
“I sure hope you’re going to sit with me…”
You don’t need to ask me twice.
The invitation was accepted and with the cloak of anonymity, this young woman began to tell us her story.
I’ll call the young woman “Mary”.
You know, meeting someone for the first time in such a high-energy setting, where there’s so much visceral stimulation and distraction, offers itself to anonymity.
She was one of the crowd and I’m not sure I’d recognize Mary if I passed her in the street next week. That in no way negates or lessens the conversation we had, it simply is a universal reality and reminder that we all impact each other in different ways.
Okay on with the story…
Mary sat with her hand on the nearby stroller like an anchor ensuring the precious cargo didn’t drift away. She sat with an open stance of “this is me…” and exuded a welcoming and calming spirit.
She had a ready smile, no airs, and a down-to-earth demeanor that lent itself to acceptance and nonjudgmental.
“I’m so glad you chose to sit here with me,” she said.
Did we choose to sit there? Was there even a choice? I’m thinking that she chose us.
The conversation was one that went from child abuse (she’d been abused at a young age), to dating outside your ‘race’ (she left home at a young age because her step-father forbade her to date an Indigenous boy), to LGBTQ (my friend is lesbian), to finding a strong and supportive relationship (she’s been married now for several years and has two little boys–she credits her husband –and his family–from saving her from going to the streets), the lack of government help and her need and desire for education and mentorship.
Her story just fell out of her.
She simply shared. That’s all.
I admire her strength. Her beauty in being herself. The willingness to be so open with a stranger.
One thing that we talked about at length, was the inability of young people to voice their feelings and how it’s even worse now with social media.
The Discussion: Sometimes it’s because they don’t have the words, and other times it’s because they’re embarrassed and/or ashamed with their inability to know what they’re feeling, let alone be able to deal with them.
Mary wants better for her children and is advocating for school programs that bring change and offer emotional growth and support.
I told her about Roots Of Empathy, a program my son’s Kindie class was included in…
It teaches emotional truth by bringing an infant into the classroom to assist students in understanding, identifying, and empathizing with others. Conversations were started and minds opened.
We, my friend and I, parted ways from Mary without much ado. I gave her my business card and told her to check out my blog about empathy.
If by any slim chance she reads this, I just want to say: you made my day and opened my heart a little wider.
Mary, keep doing what you’re doing.
Invite people in. Don’t shut them out.
Advocate for those two children you have and learn from your own past.
Thank you for the gift of you.
QUESTION: Do you tell strangers things? How do you pick the ‘stranger’? Tell me in the comments.
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