I made a quick trip through the supermarket the other day because we needed a few things for the upcoming holiday weekend. We decided we'll probably stay close to home and let all of the vacationers have the roads for themselves, so we wanted to make sure that we had everything we needed. Trent sat in the car while I jetted through the store, snagging this and that off the store shelves. As I exited an aisle, I thought for certain I had accidentally cut off some oncoming grocery cart traffic. When I apologized to the lady I thought I had made slam on her cart-brakes, she assured me that I hadn't. Then it began.
In just a few minutes, without any promptings or probings on my part, I had learned the story of her life, as it is at this moment. Seriously! All I did was show some good manners, and the floodgates opened. I learned that their family's only car had broken down, and that she just hated having to ride the bus to do her grocery shopping. Her husband says that he thinks they can do just fine without a car, but that's easy for him to say, since he doesn't drive. This is also a problem because her daughter is graduating from high school and is concerned about how much stuff she has to bring home from her locker. Mom remembers that when she was in school, she had a lot of stuff to bring home, too. There was a car advertised on sale for x dollars, and no matter what her husband says, she is going to find a way for them to get it, because she just can't be worrying about having to do everything on the bus, which she really hates doing. And she needs a car to get all of her daughter's accumulated high-school stuff home. She's not going to try and carry all of that stuff on the bus.
I smiled and nodded politely and murmured sympathetic words when it seemed appropriate. I wished her luck, and a happy day, and went on my way. This stuff happens to us all of the time. A few months ago, Trent and I went out to lunch at a burgers, wings, and everything but the kitchen sink sort of place. In the short time that we were there, we learned that our server was on her last day working at the restaurant. She had graduated from high school early and was going to hit the road the very next day to a college in Kansas that was giving her a full-ride academic scholarship. She also told us her planned majors and career path. Her mom had battled breast cancer, so she was going to do cancer research and cure breast cancer for her mom.
We have had numerous brief encounters with complete strangers that would have bystanders thinking we are old friends. Most of the time, we don't poke our noses into the lives of folks we don't know. Somehow or other, a conversation starts. It may be full of laughter or tears, or, like my supermarket saga, a very one-sided affair. When it happens, we're usually rather puzzled. What is it about us that makes people open up to us and share so much of their lives with us even though we are strangers? Is it something about our faces? We haven't figured it out. But we always have the hope that our brief encounters somehow help the ones we meet. Perhaps they are on edge, or suffering some deep stress. Maybe they have no one else to talk to. Maybe the eye contact we give them validates them as a human being and shows them that they are worth a few minutes of somebody's time. I'd like to think so. Perhaps, in this hurried, harried world, taking just a moment to make contact with another person helps us to retain our humanity.
If you're ever in a supermarket in the North Denver Metro area, and you see someone who looks like me or Trent, feel free to look us in the eye and say hello. If you're troubled and need to say it aloud, tell us. Listening to your worries may take our minds off our own. And if you're feeling happy, the same drill works. Stop for a moment and share a smile. We'll all feel better. And maybe you can be honest and tell me the answer. Is it something about my face?
The faces that launched thousands of conversations...