There was a summer when I began to come alive. It happened following a very dark, difficult and confusing period in my life.
I began to know God in new ways, which also helped me to understand myself as well. I felt connected to the world, humanity, and was positive about my future, knowing it was good, although I didn’t know exactly what my path was to be. It was during this time that I got a new hobby: talking to strangers.
I discovered that the people around me were fascinating. I met a girl on the bus who was reading her Bible. I asked what she was learning and she talked about the how the word "today" kept coming up in a certain passage and how God’s faithfulness is new every day.
I met a man in an airport who works with autistic children. It was fascinating to learn about his knowledge of autism and his role in training people who have autistic children, and how rewarding his career must be.
Places of transportation seem to be good places to talk to strangers. It’s easy to strike up a conversation because you know that you have something to relate to others about-you are both on your way to ‘somewhere.’
I met a middle aged woman on my way home from work one summer day. I had an hour commute and shared about half of the ride with her. There was an empty seat beside her at the back of the mostly full bus. I sat down and glanced over her shoulder at the newspaper she was reading. I made a comment about the latest celebrity gossip, and we got to talking.
She was the kind of woman that you know a lot about just by looking at her. She was a little too thin, with overly bleached blonde hair-likely dyed at home rather than a salon-that was straggly and hadn’t been cut in quite a while. It seemed obvious that the lines in her face had were etched there by more than just age; she had evidently lived a difficult life. When she mentioned her daughter and the father of that daughter, I realized she must have lived through many things that broke her heart, things like love lost and relationships broken.
During the conversation I noticed that when I tried to add something to the current topic, she just kept talking. It was a bit frustrating to be ignored, but I eventually realized that this was not a conversation that was going to go two ways. She was a person who just needed to be heard, and hey, don’t we all need that now and then?
Her reason for being on the bus that day was very different from mine. I was heading home from work, and she was delivering cookies-not as a job, she had just promised some people that she would bring them cookies, and wanted to make good on her promise.
It had taken her awhile to make the cookies because apparently she had run out of one ingredient after the other. She said her philosophy in cookie making was "go big or go home" so when she had finally gotten everything she needed, she made her cookies and I had run into her while she was on her delivery route. I liked this cookie philosophy, told her so, and she offered me one. I accepted. The cookies tasted just like the Dad’s cookies my mom used to make when I was a kid.
Then, in the split second after I took that first bite, I freaked out. Who was this woman? A complete stranger? And not a clean, well-dressed, trustworthy, good-first-impression, sort of stranger either … and I had just put this stranger’s food in my mouth! Maybe she didn’t wash her hands, or had some weird germs or disease … I just took food from a stranger! What is wrong with me?!
Then I had a completely different thought. I remember Jesus saying something about giving a cup of water in His name (Mark 9:41). I couldn’t give a cup of water, but I could eat a cookie.
So eat a cookie I did, in the name of Jesus. In a way, my receiving from her (listening, eating a cookie) was the best way for me to give to her.
As the cookie lady got off the bus that day, she asked me my name. "Karen," I replied, "What’s yours?" "Louise," she told me.
"Hey, my middle name is Louise!"
We connected in that moment-but I think Louise and I share more than just a name and a love for cookies. We are people who are broken, who need to be made whole, and who just need someone to really listen to us once in awhile. What I’ve enjoy most about talking to strangers is finding out that they are not really so strange; we are not so different from each other at all.