You may think I’m weird after you read this, but I hope you will keep an open mind. There is a point to the story. Here goes.
My husband and I were at a casual restaurant in a touristy small town called Tarpon Springs, FL last week while we were on vacation.
At one point, my husband pointed out a guy a few tables away who had a fully white goatee that hung at least 6 inches down his chest, and said:
Lest he get any ideas, I feel compelled at every opportunity, and this was one of them, to make it clear that I am not ‘impressed’ with facial hair (no offense to facial hair lovers).
For a brief period last year, my husband grew his goatee from the very short stubble he usually sports to a length of about an inch. I was glad when he shaved it.
So in addition to saying “I’m not impressed at all…”, I added that the long white goatee made the guy look a lot older than his years.
“In fact” I said, “he looks older, but I bet he is younger than you are. If you grew a goatee like that, you’d look a lot older”.
(I assure you we are not that vain. This was just a light-hearted exchange, and my husband likes to tease that he is ‘an old man’ now that he qualifies for the senior discount at most places)
My husband disagreed. He was sure the goatee man was older than him.
The goatee was interesting, and I was curious to know more, so I said, “I’ll find out”.
Just then, the waiter was taking the order of goatee man and the woman across from him whom I presumed to be his wife. I realized I could walk up to their table right as the waiter walked away, which would hopefully prevent interruption of a deeper conversation in progress between them.
So I did. I walked up, and started with “Hello, I know this is unusual but…”
Back to them in a minute. First, I’ll answer a question I get a lot.
Yes, of course I get a bit nervous when I walk up to a stranger and initiate a conversation. I know they might think I’m weird, but it doesn’t stop me. I remind myself that they are just another human being, that if they don’t want to talk to me, I will have lost nothing.
But if they do, I’ve broken the monotony, and possibly made a brief and fun connection with someone interesting.
What I do is ‘weird’ behavior to some, only because we don’t do it often enough.
We live farther away from our families and the communities we grew up in. We encounter and live around strangers more than ever in human history. Sadly, to some of us, even our neighbors are strangers we don’t talk to. Dare I say, we’ve become pretty self absorbed. We’re busy and pre-occupied, and sometimes quite oblivious to the fact that there are so many beautiful humans in our midst.
In this day and age where everyone seems to be buried in gadgets, I fear we’re becoming somewhat zombified and desensitized, and I know I’m not the only one with that concern.
For me, connecting with others, even briefly, means I’ve wandered out of my self centered world, and reached out to a fellow earth dweller. Sometimes I have a comment that I want to share with another human being. Sometimes it just feels right.
Isn’t it better to invite someone into the conversation wherever possible, if they’re right there, rather than ponder or guess about them in my head or gossip about them with another person?
Some people seem grateful for the interruption and care-free conversation, and others are more shy. That’s fine with me. Maybe some walk away saying “what a weirdo”. That’s fine too.
Forrest Gump said “life is like a box of chocolates…you never know what you’re gonna get“.
Strangers are like a box of chocolates too. They are part of life. Few encounters end up boring and mundane. Most are surprisingly pleasant or delightful.
The encounter I had with the man with the long goatee and his wife ended up being the latter – delightful. They laughed when I shared the conversation my husband and I had about them, and the wife chuckled saying she wasn’t at all a fan of the long goatee either.
What’s funny is that he had cut about 3 inches off of it just the week before to appease her, and she’d barely noticed.
She’d rather he cut the whole thing off, but he’s proud of the goatee that took him 6 years to grow. He says strangers comment on it and talk to him about it all the time.
And…He is indeed younger than my husband. By 3 years. He knows the goatee makes him look older, but he prefers to call it ‘wiser’.
We laughed together. It was at most a 3-5 minute conversation for which I was completely present, and it was fun.
Here is best part: the next night we were having dinner with my husbands brother and wife, in yet another touristy coastal town ten miles from the restaurant in which we met goatee man.
As we were chatting and eating my husband and I both saw them at the same time. The man with the long goatee and his wife walking into our restaurant.We all laughed and waved at each other like long lost friends, thrilled at the coincidence.
My point in relaying this story is this: It doesn’t have to be hard. Regardless of the setting, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there.
Maybe you’re saying to yourself, it’s not that its hard, it’s just that I don’t want to talk to a stranger unless I have to.
But just remember, the people around you are not set props. We’re human, and we’re meant for connection. And I hope you have plenty of connection in your life because when you don’t, your well being suffers my friend.
Brief encounters with other human beings reminds us that we are not alone, that there is a bigger wider world out there full of concerns and struggles beyond our own.
Talking to strangers reminds us that the world doesn’t revolve around us. It makes us more sensitive to others and compassionate. You will grow as a human being.
It feels good. Each time you share a smile or a laugh with someone you get a little neuro-chemical boost of happy chemicals in your brain, did you know that?
There is treasure and beauty out there, and you don’t know what you’re missing.
And if you don’t do it for yourself, do it for someone else. Seriously.
When you offer a small kindness, a smile, or brief amount of attention to someone, say something out of the ordinary to them, you are giving them a boost as well. You never know, but you may change the course of their day.
So the next time you’re out and about, break up the monotony. Look around you. Pay attention. See if you are curious about anyone or have anything to say to them, and do it. Initiate a conversation. It’s really that easy.