I was challenged in my thinking by my friend Kristi, who is always saying "hello" or "have a nice day!" to random people, even people who look kind of scary to me. Then last week I was in Panera with another friend and he started chatting it up with the guy who was refilling the milk on the coffee bar. After these two experiences and a sermon about getting involved with people in the community in which one lives, I started becoming more aware of the people around me. I noticed that no one actually talks to anyone else and how many people walk around with headphones in, as if oblivious to the entire rest of the world. If anyone steps outside of the box and actually speaks to someone, everyone else standing around exchange glances like, "what does she think she's doing?" I experienced that on the subway, which isn't shocking since each person in NYC seems to be living in a personal bubble.
I have two stories about people breaking out of the "don't talk to strangers" mold and pulling me out along with them. The first occurred in a tavern here in Nyack on street fair day. I was waiting outside the ladies' room for Kristi when I was joined by a 40's-something lady who needed to use the restroom. We started chatting about the narrowness of the hallway, which led to talking about us both being at the tavern for the first time, which led to her explaining that she wasn't from Nyack but was on a first date with a guy whom she had met online. She said she had been so nervous beforehand that she couldn't even put mascara on because her hand was shaking. Her giddiness and openness made me want to giggle with delight as she told me how well the date was going. I later saw she and her date holding hands as they browsed the booths at the street fair. The encounter left me feeling happy and thankful that I have the kind of face that people feel they can talk to, even if they just met me waiting for the ladies' room.
The second story took place last Thursday morning. I had run down to the river and was walking back to the college campus where my apartment is located. On the way to the river, I had noticed the midde-aged school crossing guard setting up shop at the three-way intersection. There is a middle school on the college campus, so the crossing guard comes every morning to help the students cross safely - there's pretty much zero chance they'd make it without him, as crazy as Nyack drivers are. As I came up to the corner where I needed to cross, I realized that I was the only one waiting to cross and that I would probably need the services of the crossing guard. I was standing there feeling a bit sheepish when the man started talking to me. I quickly pulled the earbud out of my left ear and chatted it up with him as he asked if I went to the college, where I was from, etc. He then stopped traffic for only me, walked to the middle of the road with his little sign, and wished me a good day. He had been so surprisingly, unexpectedly kind, even just in his tone and the way he asked me questions that I couldn't stop smiling as I hiked up the hill to my apartment.
Neither of these stories are extravagant. Nothing out of the ordinary was spoken. Neither of the people involved were celebrities or superheroes. Yet both times I left the scene feeling happy and important, as if my presence in that particular place mattered, as did theirs. Jesus chatted it up with strangers on a regular basis - strangers who were usually the untouchable, unmentionable outcasts of society. Jesus taught us that no one is "untouchable," "unmentionable," or an "outcast." He didn't ignore people as he walked on the street, so why do I? Something as simple as a smile, a nod, a "hello," or a "how are you doing?" could be a ray of sunshine in someone's rainy day. So talk to the people. You never know how you will impact a person's life.