“Just walk over there and say something.”
I surveyed the room and quickly counted how many steps it would take to cross it.
“No way, I can’t walk all the way over there, she’ll see me coming.”
“So what, isn’t that the point anyway? What are you afraid of?”
I thought about that for a moment.
“What if she thinks I’m some kind of creepy, weirdo?”
In my mind I pictured every possible outcome to this scenario that left me leaving in utter humiliation.
“You’re not going over there to flirt with her, you’re just talking with her.”
“Yeah but still …”
“But what?! You’ve traveled all the way across the world, and you can’t even walk over a couple of feet and say hello to someone. Now be a man and go over there and talk to her!”
I thought about it again for a few moments.
“Ok I’ll do it …”
Before I knew it I was on my way over. Somehow amidst the conversation in my head, the voices had convinced my will to start moving my body. Foot stepped after foot; my right and left arms alternately brushed by each side of my body. My mind felt captive in the machine that was now moving without my authority. Frantically, my eyes scanned the room for a way out—an exit, a newspaper, a drinking fountain, something to give me an excuse to have walked all the way over here. However, I realized my fate was determined as I found myself standing in front of this girl, with no idea of what I was going to say. All of a sudden, as if my voice was playing a mean trick on me, out came the first word, “Hello ….”
So it was I walked across the Frankfurt airport to talk to a stranger—a small feat for most, but for me, a milestone of my introverted life. I had been waiting in a nearly deserted boarding area for my plane to leave for about two hours. During my wait, I did my usual, comfortable, hobby of watching people. To my right there was a businessman buried in a newspaper. Down from him a tired out mom tried to control her two noisy children. Across from me sat an older couple, looking forward and not talking to each other. As my eyes grazed the room, they finally fell upon a girl sitting by herself in the far corner, but what particularly caught my attention above all the rest, was that she was wearing an Oregon State sweatshirt. Since I grew up living only a couple of miles away from the school, and since we were both sitting alone in an airport in Germany, it seemed a good enough reason to start a conversation. That’s when the voices in my head started.
As I mentioned before, I am an introvert and have worked my entire life to come to terms with that fact. Finally, after 23 years, I have peace with myself. I no longer feel the need to overly assert myself in public or pretend like I am the life of the party. I am OK being me, and I know I give God glory by being who He created and using the gifts that He has given me. However, I also know that I am deeply flawed, just like everyone else is in some way. For myself, I have often noticed that I hide behind my personality in order to avoid some uncomfortable situations.
The danger I feel for me and for those like me is not that if we don’t speak up we’ll be a bad person or a weak Christian. I feel that the danger is, that in my fear, I will miss out on some great opportunities because I wasn’t bold enough to open my mouth and say a word. No matter how much I would like to deny it, fear is the enemy of my personality. I believe being an introvert has immense power and beauty, but if there is one thing that would strip us of this, it is fear. We fear what others will think of our words. We fear what we say will not be good enough in some way. We fear that to say something wrong is worse than saying nothing at all.
On the other hand, I don’t think the absence of fear will make us loud, extroverted people. There are still many times I refrain from talking. Often I am in some social setting, and I can’t think of a thing to say, so I remain quiet, and I feel perfectly at peace with that. But every once in a while a time will come when I know I should open my mouth, and though there may still be fear, may God grant me the courage to speak.
After that first hello in the Frankfurt airport, I ended up talking with this girl for over an hour while we waited for our plane. We also talked on the plane the whole flight from Germany to Scotland. Afterwards, when I was lost in Glasgow with no money to pay for a train ticket to reach my next bus, my new friend offered to pay for my ticket and then pointed me in the right direction. I don’t know what would have happened if I hadn’t walked across that room, if I hadn’t listened to that voice in my head. But I know my life, in a small way, was better for it.
To read the first article in this series by Joel Hoffman, “In Introvert’s Confession”, you can go here.