Tuesday, November 10, 2009

What Was Rick Springfield Thinking?

"Don't talk to strangers." Makes ya wonder how we have managed to propagate the human race all these years eh? When I first saw the big-eyed, long-lashed handsome lad, who has since become known as Hunky Hubby, across a not so crowded classroom, I said, "Now there is a stranger I want to get to know!" Glad I did too. Don't talk to strangers. Who ever heard of such a thing!? (For all the moms and dads who are having a tizzy right now, perhaps we could teach "Don't walk away with strangers" instead?) I talk to everyone in the grocery checkout line. I call waiters and cashiers by name and try to smile at everyone I make eye contact with. When and why did we decide that the proper way to handle accidental eye contact was to pretend that we were checking the clock behind said stranger? Silly.
So, this week, I talked to strangers. I flew home for a family gathering after my grandmother passed away. During the 4 legs of travel I had the opportunity to sit next to four different strangers. I learned a great deal about myself, about them, and about us, as humans. And there are 4 fewer strangers in my world now. How different we all are, and yet how the same. Five people (including myself) from 4 different states, different ages, different occupations, upbringings, circumstances, status, and lives. Yet we found ourselves momentarily crossing paths. For an hour and a half becoming part of each other's lives.
Not everyone likes to talk, but I found that even a quiet one will share his life with a stranger with a smile. He was a welding inspector, on his way from Spokane to SE Idaho. A job that would take him away from home until Thanksgiving. Only to turn around and head back to work again until Christmas. That is a long time to be away from loved ones, especially nine grandchildren. Or to leave nine children, as another fellow traveler. Although 8 of his were grown, he left behind a wife and a four year old son as he headed to Las Vegas for a conference. Kind looking man. Soft spoken with bright blue eyes. He enjoys his job in education as an ESL specialist with a local school district. We had religion in common and discussed raising teenagers, missionary work and the gospel. I am glad he was willing to share his experience with me and grateful that he expressed finding something valuable in what I had to say as well.
And John. He was on the last leg of a long journey from DC to California. A cardiologist, educated at Harvard. Don't meet many of those in my circle. I think in other circumstance I may have felt intimidated. Although I do not know why. Labels I guess. Doctor. Harvard. Status. Prestige. But in reality we conversed easily and comfortably. Our kids were the same ages. He was struggling with an issue with a 17 year old daughter that I think every parent has had. We were far more alike than different, and I appreciated an honest, open exchange with a fellow human being. Finally Mr. Zhèng --I can neither pronounce nor spell his given name! Serendipity. Born, raised and educated in mainland China, he came to the US for his PhD in horticultural genetics at Clemson University, finally making his home in northern California. He travels the world doing research and speaking. What an interesting conversation. I am fascinated by genetic engineering and organic farming, and he knew the answers to questions I am not even half smart enough to ask. But ask I did and he excitedly explained his work with a passion and exuberance that I would have previously not thought possible in discussing the hybridization of watermelons! So different, yet partaking in the thrill of common interests and sharing in a human experience. Amazing. Thought provoking. Extraordinary and surprising. It took only a second to get up the courage to start a conversation. To ask a question. To engage another person in my moment of time. Time I could have simply passed. And for those moments...the world became a tiny bit smaller.
--Shirley MacLaine actress


  1. You are kind. When I travel, I don't visit much with the person sitting next to me. I don't know why. I think I usually sit next to someone a little on the creepy side. When I travel with John, I always make him sit next to the unfamiliar person. Maybe I should try a little harder next time.

  2. I love talking to people on the plane. Greg can never figure how I do it. Good for you!

  3. I love this post!! I totally agree. I talk with everyone. My favorite place to engage people in conversation is elevators because they are always so awkward. Everyone avoids eye contact. I find that very amusing. And I also love that someone can come into our lives for just a moment and enrich it.

    I am so glad you had such a great experience on the plane with the different people you sat by. Thanks for sharing their lives with us!!