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?

Having a Bad Day?

I lost about six hours of work this morning.

Tech support could not help me retrieve the file.

I took a wrong turn trying to get to WhataBurger (for stress relief chicken strips).

The drive thru attendant only gave me three ice cubes.

My tea was too sweet.

I’m on the way to a long meeting with a client and now have substantially less work to show (see reason #1 above).

It’s kind of a poo day. But, my car and body are still running and I didn’t break down in the drive thru lane.

Things can be worse and some days it’ll be your turn to be stuck in the broken down car.

Get your ass out and push!

And be thankful when it’s your turn to be in the car that is running.

How’s your day going?

Until tomorrow my friends…

Caring for Others, Part 2

I have a few more thoughts on what I wrote about yesterday.

When my grandmother taught me how to not be a little ungrateful jerk when I was offered those horrid bananas, she also taught me another lesson: care for yourself.

I have to admit that I am just becoming more practiced at self care, but I suppose a few decades late is better than never.

My grandmother didn’t force me to eat the banana. In fact, I don’t remember being forced to do much of anything as a child. I was encouraged to have an open mind, but never forced into anything.

I think that was an important part of my development into a somewhat carefree kind of person. I understand the importance of not forcing anyone into any thing, which makes me pretty hands off with people. I’m not the friend who is going to ask you to have just one more drink. I’m the friend who doesn’t give a shit when you willingly decide to do so, for yourself.

That little lesson from grandma also means that it’s important to not put the expectations of others before your own wants and desires, if you’re not hurting anyone. My grandmother cared more about me being a nice person than being an obedient one.

Thanks grandma.

I also have to truly thank my mother, too. She reinforced those same values in me. Sometimes she had to counter balance my natural propensity to constantly “Do my own thing” by teaching me the importance of making friends and all that hootienannie. But, I’m very thankful for those lessons, too, mom.

Until tomorrow my friends…

Caring for Others

The most rewarding things that I’ve done in my life involved doing something nice for someone else.

Many times, the recipient has been not so thankful. But, I still felt good anyway. I think it’s important to not let other people’s reactions rob us of the joy of kindness and good deeds. This is VERY hard for me to do, but I’m working on it.

I thought about writing this today because I made some meals for my elderly uncle. I cannot cook like his late wife (my aunt) but I know that he will appreciate my effort.

Do you appreciate other people’s efforts without being critical or an asshole otherwise?

I think that’s easier to do than we think it is.

When I was a kid, I hated bananas. I’ve grown tolerant of them as an adult because I put them in smoothies and the potassium makes my old body feel a little less old.

But honestly, I could never see another banana again and be fine, even happy.

But, when I was a kid, one of my grandma’s friends used to love giving me bananas. It was her favorite fruit and perhaps she thought that she was really being kind to me by offering me one.

I still hated them.

But my grandmother, in all her wisdom, instructed me to not eat the banana but to always, always take it and be completely gracious and thankful.

Eventually, I went from kind of pretending to be thankful to having a better understanding of what grace is. Eventually, my thanks was heartfelt and not at all pretentious, even though I never ate the damned bananas.

I learned to be gracious when someone thought enough of me to do something. I learned to not take the joy from them for being kind. I learned not to essentially punish people for being nice. I learned a little bit of what it’s like to not be an asshole.

And now, when I do nice things for people, I get to learn how to be on the other side of the equation. Sometimes something that I do that I think is kind is met with welcome and enthusiasm. Sometimes, it’s not. But regardless, I’m working on not attaching my feelings to the behavior of other people. I take the pleasure and reward of kindness from what I can control: only myself.

What do you think of this topic?

Until tomorrow my friends…

It Doesn’t Matter

Do you ever feel like no one understands you?

How you feel? Your humor? Your off putting affinity for skulls? Your not so secret desire to live on an island?

Do you ever feel so alone?

Maybe you share some of those feelings and maybe you have some quirks of your own that make you feel ostracized sometimes.

I can relate. Some days, it feels like “Ostracized” is my middle name.

I don’t regularly do the two seemingly most common American activities: drink alcohol and watch tv.

If I had to guess, I would say that on average, I have about one martini every 8 weeks and watch about 1-3 hours of internet videos a week. I watch no regular tv shows, even though I do plan to catch up on “The X-Files” soon.

Do you know what these facts make me? Well, they make me almost a social pariah.

People are so strangely uncomfortable when I tell them I don’t drink much and I watch almost no television. They think that I’m odd, and technically, they’re right.

I feel odd and I feel misunderstood.

I use the examples of television and alcohol as somewhat light hearted examples, but I’ve also often felt deeply misunderstood, sometimes even telling myself that I will NEVER find someone who understands me.

Well, here’s the thing: IT DOES NOT MATTER. So the f*ck what?

Recently, I was listening to an Eckhart Tolle talk and he addressed the ongoing need that we can sometimes have to feel understood. And of course, when our version of understanding does not come, we make ourselves feel miserable. We tell ourselves horrible things, like no one will ever understand, or we are terrible for being so odd, so on and so forth.

But all of those things are unknown. Maybe you’ll find the jelly to your peanut butter. Maybe you’re just a singular, delicious nut spread.

Regardless, the better focus is on understanding yourself. There’s so much focus that we can develop on what other people are giving us that we neglect to give ourselves anything.

So, maybe your family thinks you’re nuts? You might actually be a little weird. Maybe no one does understand you.

SO WHAT?

Do you, who has the most access to you,understand you?

No?

Then you’ve already got enough things to do.

So many, in fact, that you might not have much time to watch the tele.

Until tomorrow my friends…

Is the World Really That Bad?

These days, it seems like the world has gone to absolute shite. There’s seemingly so much violence, hatred, and lying. It is easy to feel that the world is terrible. I know I sometimes feel like it is.

I once read a quote by Eckhart Tolle that loosely said something like “If you think the world is against you, it will be.”

Even though I don’t always feel comfortable out in the world, and I certainly don’t always think about the world as being a warm and fuzzy place, sometimes, the universe smiles at me. Well, often times the universe smiles at me. Does the universe smile at me because I am paying attention and smiling back or because I’m special? I am hesitant to say that I am terribly special, so it must be the former reason.

Allow me to share two mildly heart warming stories from the past two days:

Yesterday:

I was driving along on my somewhat long commute to meet two students. I was just sitting at a stop light, not singing along to music or doing anything in particular, when I casually looked over to my left.

There was an old, rusted, silver mini-van, with several people inside. The driver, a skinny, young woman wearing a colorful head wrap and tank top shirt, leaned over the front seat passenger and waved and smiled, rather enthusiastically.

I looked, then squinted, trying to make their faces out more clearly. I didn’t recognize anyone in the car. The passenger then smiled sweetly and warmly. I returned the smile, with the same genuineness, mixed with a lot of confusion, to be honest. They then casually returned to talking amongst themselves and eventually drove away, like they really were just waving and being friendly strangers. They didn’t ask me for change or directions or anything. I suppose that they were just being nice. Smiling back was a welcome departure from the typically dirty looks I give other drivers.

Today:

Today, I had a bit of a mental block, so I went for a walk. I walked along the nearby trail, which passes a high school. When I got close to the fence of the school, I saw two teenage girls, mimicking walking and then jumping up and down. I thought they were mocking me. The shirt I was wearing was kind of tight and I am not a size two, so I kind of thought they were mocking me for walking and / or being chubby.

As I got closer, I could see their faces and hear their voices clearly. One shouted “YOU GO SIS!” and the other shouted, jumping up and down and cheering FOR me, “I AM SO PROUD OF YOU.”

I was so taken aback that I almost failed to wave back! It was so odd! It went against every negative expectation that I have about interactions with both strangers and teenagers, and these people were both strange AND teen aged!

I waved back and smiled. My head became so uplifted! I smiled all the way back home. I felt encouraged (something that I sorely need these days). I felt like the universe cared about me and was sending me little pats on the back. It was lovely. My mood was improved for the rest of the day and continues to be lifted until this very moment.

Thanks, universe. You’re not so bad.

Until tomorrow, my friends…

Getting Beat Up

Today I went to visit my elderly uncle. I’ve written about him before and today he imparted some more wisdom that I would like to share.

He’s 81 years old and is very gentle in nature. As long as I’ve known him or known of him, over 30 years, he’s always been the same. He’s not the guy who was a jerk before who became gentle. It’s just his nature.

Today, I talked to him about the challenges of entrepreneurship and having faith in myself.

He laughed very heartily, like I had told him a very funny joke.

“Do you know how many people have been beat up, so many times? And they just kept on trying. That’s what you will do.”

He said it with a level of confidence and surety that I honesty don’t always have about being an entrepreneur. Wait, I’m just kidding. That was an understatement. He seemed sure and I feel the exact opposite. But I’m still trying anyway.

I talked to him briefly about the often times crippling fear of uncertainty.

Again, he laughed, this time louder, and said: “You ever sit around and think about how every time you thought something was so messed up and some kind of way you figured it out?”

MIND. BLOWN.

No, my dear, ancient and wise uncle, I do not sit around and think about my successes. I have too many failures and near misses to think about!

That’s what I wanted to say, but I realized I was/am a silly worry wart and my uncle was right.

Trying is hard. Change is hard. Trying to do something new is hard. Failure is hard. But, for me, so is wishing for something different or settling for mediocrity.

Nowadays, I have no idea what’s going on in almost any aspect of my life. Everything from my health to my paychecks have big ass questions marks floating around them.

But, I’m doing it. I’m making it. I’m unsure, but I’m not dead yet. And if I wake up tomorrow again, not dead, then I have another opportunity to figure things out.

Take it from an 81 year old man: you can do it and it’ll be better than you thought, if you try.

Good luck…

Until tomorrow my friends…