Give people a chance to tell you their story.
So we spend most of our days in a hurry. Rushing from one appointment to the next, checking email, texting, making calls while we’re in the grocery store checkout line. But for as many ways as we now have to communicate, I almost wonder if we’re doing less of it face to face, closing ourselves off in ways we never have before.
I went in a Starbucks a while back, one of the cool ones in Nashville that’s been recently renovated and has lots of comfy leather chairs to sink into with a laptop. But no one was talking to the people around them. It was as if each person had an invisible shield around them that didn’t encourage conversation.
Was it like that at local diners twenty or thirty years ago when people didn’t have Facebook to update their status on and text messages to send? Somehow I can’t picture people lined up on counter stools sipping at Coke Floats and not talking to each other.
Anyhow, I started to think about making myself a little more approachable when I’m out and about, a little less can’t-talk-I’m-busy. And within the past week, I met two amazing people.
The first was over breakfast at a small hotel where guests eat together. The woman at the table with my friend and me exchanged the normal pleasantries with us. Hers was an impressive career, and it would have been easy to be intimidated by her credentials. But the more we talked, the more I began to see of the woman behind all that, a woman who had just lost her mother the week before and was away from home facing the biggest job interview of her life.
When she began to talk about her mother, her eyes filled with tears, and she spoke of some of the amazing things she had done, both brave and ahead of her time and not always popular in their small town. It was easy to see how this woman had been shaped by her own mother’s courage to make a difference in the world. At the end of that meal, I felt honored that she had shared those memories with us.
The second situation involved an encounter with a young woman at a hair salon. Again, I would typically have had my laptop in front of me instead of talking, but on this morning, I actually initiated the conversation. From all appearances, she was just a normal American, stylish and articulate, professional.
But as the time slid along, and she began to reveal threads of her past, it became clear that her life had not been normal by any measuring stick I am familiar with. As a young girl, she and her family had been forced to leave their war-torn country for Malaysia, one of the two countries that would accept them as a family, with $50 all that remained of their once more than comfortable life.
It was hard to imagine how difficult their journey must have been, and as she shared pieces of her story with me, I felt grateful for the comfort we have known in our country and happy that she and her family had found safety here.
I left the salon that day with images in my mind of a place I will probably never know except through that young woman’s words. An awareness of things I had previously not been aware of.
My conversations with these two women had both been a little journey of sorts, one I could easily have missed had I turned on my laptop and posted my invisible Do Not Disturb sign.
I’m glad I didn’t.