Stranger Danger, Part 1

Let’s talk about interacting with strangers.

Interactions with strangers have provided some of the most interesting stories of my life. A friend once said to me, “If I were you, I wouldn’t even leave the house most days.” That is how often and how strange my stranger interactions are.

Stranger interactions are so common to me that nowadays, it takes a VERY strange interaction to get me to even think twice about it. Yesterday, I had such an interaction.

Yesterday, I was sitting outside of my local Barnes and Noble bookseller. One of my past times is to go to the bookstore and wander around. Sometimes I leave with $80 worth of books, but most days, I just wander around, enjoy the atmosphere, and if the guilt of “just looking” gets to me, I will purchase a copy of Psychology Today or some virtually unknown, paperback literary journal.

As I was sitting in my car, kind of fumbling around with my purse and finishing up an episode of “The Daily” podcast (my go-to source for short bursts of information and entertainment), a beggar approached my window.

I have pretty good intuition and I usually play it safe. I didn’t immediately feel threatened, and he stayed a bit back away from the car, silently waving, trying to get my attention.

He held up a quarter and made the universal hand motion for “spare a quarter?”

I waved him to the other side of the car, to the driver’s side, and rolled down the window.

“Hi there, ma’am, do you have even just a quarter you can spare? I think I can get a bus ride if I can just get a little bit more,” he started.

He was almost soft spoken, with a twangy Texan accent. He was short, probably around my own height of a little more than five feet tall. He had curiously bright blue eyes, dirty blond, long, stringy, greasy hair and the kind of dark, tanned skin that only comes from being exposed to lots and lots of outdoor elements. He was almost the shade of some parts of my own body, and I am a Black American.

I very quickly pick up on people’s natures, and even when I still give a person a chance to prove me wrong, my initial twinge of judgement about their nature has never once been wrong.

Regardless of this man’s past or present, I could sense that his nature was mellow, and perhaps kind.

Believe it or not, I have met lots and lots and lots of beggars. Regardless of what a person is doing, begging or running a Fortune 500 company, the nature of that person, at least to me, is almost immediately apparent, and I have learned to question my innate guidance less, having gone against my better judgement in the past and been proven dumb for having done so.

“Sure,” I said, and I began to clear the clutter from my dashboard cubbie to fish out some change.

“Yeah, you know, I have made some bad choices,” he confessed.

I didn’t ask what kind. One part of me didn’t care, but the greater part of me now operates from a place of peace and non-judgement that I happily live in. This place of peace does not have space for or interest in the the bad choices of other people.

“We all have made bad choices,” I reminded him, and smiled. His already curiously bright eyes lit up a little bit, and for a moment, I could kind of see the guy he could be, or perhaps he would be, when he decided to make different choices.

Disclaimer: Don’t worry, these are completely platonic, entirely asexual observations. This story does not end with me taking him home.

“You sure do have a pretty smile,” he said, seeming relaxed.

“Thank you,” I responded, still gathering together the coins, and wondering if this guy is going to make out like a bandit because I have approximately $87 worth of nickels and dimes in my car cubbie.

“I am getting all the change together,” I reassured him, wondering if he was thinking about how long it was taking me.

“Don’t worry, I don’t mind; I am just thankful that you didn’t shoo me away.”

At this point, I was digging my nails against the last few cents, and putting it all together in my hands.

“I can see God around you,” he continued. At this point, I am actually not having cynical thoughts. I am not thinking, “Dude, I am going to give you the money, no need to bring God into this” or “Dude, I am not going to give you dollar bills because you mentioned God.”

For a few moments, I was just having a purely pure interaction with a random, middle aged dude who was down on his luck.

I handed over the change (finally) and he took it, and thanked me genuinely. He put it away and took a step or two from the car, and came back.

I had not rolled up the window and I did not seem annoyed that he came back. That’s because I wasn’t annoyed.

“Hey, would you like to pray with me?” he asked.

“Sure,” I responded. Even though I am not much of a church going, Bible thumping, anything nowadays, the peace I currently live in also extends to any sort of religious beliefs that others have, including any that do not mirror the ones I was raised in.

“Ok,” he started with now an almost child-like, giddy energy in his voice, “you say the prayer. You lead it, and I will follow.”

This is kind of where this story gets weird, at least for me.

No one has ever asked me to pray for them aloud or to lead a prayer. In fact, in the church I was raised in, the misogynistic view of women in the pulpit or in any type of meaningful worship leadership, prevailed.

Although I do not subscribe to such horseshit now, and to be frank, I thought of it as horseshit as a kid, too, I was completely shocked, as a woman, to be asked to lead a prayer. A prayer for a stranger, in a bookstore parking lot.

“Oh, oh my goodness, no one has ever asked me to pray for them, errr, I mean, to, um, lead a prayer, I think,” I stumbled.

I was so shocked that I had put my right hand over my breast, in classic, southern lady shocked posture.

“It’s ok,” he assured me. “How bout this? You say a prayer for me, silently, and I will say a prayer for you, too. What’s your name?” he asked.

“Nicole,” I responded. “And yours?”

“Chris,” he replied.

I stuck my hand out of the window, heart full of both confusion and thankfulness, and opened my hand.

He seemed shocked. I am sure he is treated very poorly by most people, based on his appearance and current stage of life. He looked at my hand like it was an oddity, but quickly presented his own.

I squeezed his hand, smiled, and said, “Good luck, Chris.”

“Thank ya, miss,” he told me, turned away, and continued walking.

I believe that the universe (or God, or Yoda, or whatever you like to call it) is represented in all of us. Sometimes, I believe, the universe presents its strangest selves to us for us to see and experience the odd, yet beautiful.

What do you think?

Until tomorrow, my friends…

 

P.S.

I fell way off the wagon; I am afraid to count the number of days I haven’t written. Regardless of how my blog may now suffer from short term abandonment issues, I am back with something interesting to write about. Perhaps I should only write on days when I actually have something interesting to say?

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