Wednesday, December 15, 2010

people like me

i love when i get to meet someone who is wired the same way that i am.  We're almost drawn to one another, like magnets.  We interact.  Our eyes meet.  We grin:
You love to talk?
You love strangers?
You believe in the greater good?
You don't believe in coincidences either do you?
We were meant to meet each other weren't we? 
We relish in it. Sometimes we embrace like old friends. One of us may even get a tear in our eye because we know that we're about to hear something from the Man Upstairs. We sit down, we settle in for a long talk, we brush off surface level talk.  i am still mulling over a lunch-date with a complete stranger from last week; planning to write about it tomorrow here on the old notebook.  Talking with strangers is a gift, one that i do not take lightly.

These interactions aren't intimidating.  Although, most people might say that rehashing a divorce, or unloading your childhood phobias with a stranger would be, they aren't.  Well, at least, not for people like me.

We understand that there is something greater at work in our exchange of words.  We recognize the need to share our human experiences with each other so that we can learn and grow and help one another.

At one of my favorite coffeeshops in town, the credit/debit minimum purchase is $4; the man behind the counter, Mark, tells me this when i whip out my debit card to pay.  i decide to tip $2 on a $2 coffee so that i can meet the minimum AND make Mark's day a little brighter.

Mark, who is a person like me, says "You didn't have to do that", and i say "i didn't have to, but i wanted to".  He grins, smiles and then says "Well, I wasn't implying that you should tip in order to make up the difference."  i shrug and laugh at him, assuring him "But i wanted to.  Thanks for the coffee, i need it today."  He's already reaching for something, i'm not sure what.  He says, "If you insist to overtip, then i insist that you eat this double-chocolate muffin cap because it's become separated from its bottom.  And don't mind the powdered sugar on it, it just makes it sweeter."

Nope, the powdered sugar isn't what made me smile to myself as i sat down to write, it was this whole interaction.  The banter like we were old friends, insisting on one-upping each other with kindness.

the spoils of conversation

It's the same feeling that i get when i push a shopping cart back to the store for a woman with children.  i don't even need a shopping cart, but it helps her not to have to decide between leaving the kids unattended in the car and holding their hands in the parking lot.  Or carrying groceries for older ladies.  Maybe the women of previous generations weren't as helpful, or maybe they are counting on non-existent Boy Scouts to come and escort them.  But there i am, a 20-something blonde woman asking if i can walk them to their cars: "Yes, why that is awful sweet of you."  "It's the least i can do. Have a super night!"

Or when i call the cashier in Target by her name, Pearl, because it is a lovely name and i wanted to address her as a real person.  Pearl gasps, grins: "Do I know you?"  "Nope.  But you have a lovely name."  She is blushing, and i go on to ask her why her parents picked it.  "I was named after my grandmother."  Delightful.  So much more than a grocery bagger or coupon scanner, you cannot replace Pearl with a machine.  "Thank you Pearl, have a wonderful day."

She waves Goodbye to me as i leave.  i look around.  None of the other cashiers wave at their customers.

i like knowing that the world is feeling like a much smaller place because i'm starting to get to know the people in it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

the year of the stranger

i invite strangers into my home on a regular basis. i even invite them into my bathroom, to snuggle up with me on my couch, and into my bed. i’d be willing to bet that you do the same exact thing. You probably curl up with a good book on your couch, lug it to the bathroom [dang page-turners!]; you let it lull you to sleep, ignoring the slow blink until you suddenly realize it’s 7am and your book is resting on your pillow next to you.

strangers in my room
These are the strangers that we invite into our daily consciousness. So far this year, i’ve let quite a few strangers speak to me about a variety of things: the facelessness of email, the Wicked Witch of the West and her son, stories about lurid family affairs and childhood lore. Currently i am reading about faith from a dread-locked hippie in California and short-fictional stories from a stranger who wrote the book when she was my age.

It wouldn’t be the same if i were to invite the dirty homeless stranger from the corner to come and sit on my couch under my blanket with me. i saw her on Thanksgiving, in a predictable spot on the side of the road. i think she had a sign, but it didn’t matter. Just seeing her there destitute, malnourished and cold while i was warm and bundled, headed for Thanksgiving lunch with a piping-hot dessert cake beside me on my seat. i got $4 out of my wallet and smiled as i handed it to her.  i gave myself a mental pat-on-the-back for blessing her.  She said “God bless you”, i said “you too” but was immediately choked up with tears. i’d been blessed by this stranger in 3 short words.

When i look back over this year and reflect on all of the changes that have occurred and all of the aspects of my life that differ from this time last year, i quickly find that i am at a loss for words. i have had eight jobs in the past year. EIGHT. i was single and lonely this time last year, crying as i drove home for the holidays, crying as i drove back to Raleigh. This year i have a man in my life who gives me comfort in a way i could have never imagined. i’ve gained friends, lost friends, witnessed life-changing moments, had life-changing moments, and missed life-changing moments.

My year has been chock full of strangers. not the strangers that recite to me from their books, not the strangers who sing to me as i drive. Real, bonafide, strangers:
-Strangers who invited me into their homes while i inquired for the Census. i was always cautious about actually going inside, but even just the gesture alone was nice to witness.
-Strangers who encountered me when i drove [PEDALED!] a pedi-cab in downtown Raleigh. Besides the drunk people who would never remember the things they divulged to me, there were other folks who rode in my cart who encouraged me to be the best me. Aside from literal high-fives, these strangers were a boost to my self-esteem. They told me that i was awesome and that i’ve got the right kind of attitude to go far. i had strangers give me hugs and kiss my cheeks; strangers that gave me $100 tips and offered to buy me dinner.  Every night was an adventure filled with a menagerie of road-companions. i met homeless people, divorced people, 50th wedding-anniversary people, drunk people, awkward 14 year olds, foreign people, elderly people, birthday-people, bachelorette people, dancing people, screaming people, laughing people, quiet people, bored people, happy people, outrageous people; all of whom i could identify with directly.
-Strangers who i have talked with over the phone, like Kay in my former post. but others too: like the elderly man who sounded like Foghorn Leghorn who proposed to me after an extensive computer-technical troubleshooting session. i believe his exact words were “You sound real ‘perty’”. You gotta love that. Or the strangers on the line who said “you’ve been such a help to me, thank you for your patience through my frustration”.
-Strangers who i’ve met in person in the retail store that i work in now. Like Debbie, one stranger who i worked with on two occasions, when she asked how i’ve been and i blurted out “i’m broke” and she held my shoulders and said “It’ll get better. I’ve been there too.” Or the strangers who show you that you take things for granted. One customer of mine had an accident over 10 years ago, but he is one of the happiest people i have met in the store.  He knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to try new things. The interactions i have had with him have been inspiring to me; i replay them in my mind before bed or while i get ready for work.  He makes me want to do my job better and to be a better human-being in general.
-Strangers who have become family to me. Babysitting has been a job that i ‘moonlight’ in on the side during the regular school-year.  It usually goes like this: “HI! Welcome! Food’s in the fridge, bedtime is 8! We’ll be home by midnight! bye!” But this past year has been different. i’ve been part of a family: i have my own key, have my own nickname, it’s like i’m the big sister and the 26 year old daughter they never had. i’ve learned some of the in’s and out’s of parenthood. i’ve seen the first steps of the 2 year old, seen the first wiggly teeth of a 5 year old. i was a stranger to this family, and now i am a daughter.  i cannot begin to describe how much this means to me.

Not all of my interactions with strangers have been pleasant. There are always those interactions with people that are rude or careless with words. There were learning experiences with strangers who, in sheep’s clothing, tried to take advantage of me. These interactions taught me that i am much more capable than i give myself credit for. There were strangers who hung up on me, slammed the door in my face, cut me off in traffic, swore at me. But if i’m honest, there were times when i was the stranger in the other car honking at them, hanging up on a bad call, storming out of an interaction.

we're all in this together
There were times and interactions this year that turned strangers into friends and friends into strangers. This is the ebb and flow of relationships, i suppose.

i am sad to see some relationships end, happy to bid ‘adieu’ to unhealthy others, and encouraged to find myself in stride with new unions too. It’s easy to get wrapped up in drama and gossip; to call it quits and walk away.  It’s hard to maintain friendships as marriages start and end, jobs take us to new states, depression lurks in the economy and in our present psyche, pride and envy root themselves as barriers between friends. It is hard because it takes work, dedication, loyalty and elbow grease to remain friends and not become strangers; and we are all broken people prone to states of decay.

New hairstyles this year might make the ‘present me’ a stranger to the me that i was a year ago. Beyond the surface, new lifestyle and living arrangements would add to that strangeness. Different life-goals and orientation, morals and religious conviction, church affiliation, this me is different than the me a year ago. i still love me, and i still recognize myself in the mirror. But i am embracing the daily recognition that the ‘strange’ is part of my ordinary.

i’m loving that there are daily opportunities to learn and be taught, as well as teach and help others learn. i really do get the sense that we are all in this together; so why not smile and laugh and learn along the way?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Kay on the phone

She called to get my help.

Her name was Kay and she needed help transferring a load of files onto her new computer.

My new job is to help people like Kay troubleshoot the issues on their computers over the phone.

Before you go congratulating me, know that this job thrills me about as much as any service industry job can thrill you. Some days are reminiscent of waitressing endeavors, when all the regulars came in and asked how i was doing or left an extra tip because they knew my rent was due soon.

Other days are like when there would be a big lunch rush, the restaurant slammed with hungry patrons, tables pulled and pushed around to fit the needs of the people. i would be walking as fast as i could to keep glasses filled, tables wiped down, incoming guests greeted, and over the din of all of this, a woman in a too-small sweater snaps her fingers at me as if i were a dog being told to ‘Sit’. She pantomimes for me to come and wipe down her table, my ears and face burning with shame, i quietly acquiesce to her demand.

Except, now the pantomimes are through the phone line, and i have one defense in my arsenal: the caller (angry or naive or rude) cannot see me roll my eyes or grind my teeth in annoyance.

But i wasn’t rolling my eyes at Kay. No, i was nodding and grinning while fighting the urge to cry. willing my eyes to suck in the tears that were welling up in the lower lids.

Luckily, the process we walked through in the moving of her files was a long process. We got to talk for over an hour. Throughout our conversation, i found out that Kay was a writer (she didn’t want to lose her Final Draft application). i asked what type of writing she does, and she modestly responded “for television, but that was a long time ago”. when i asked for a little bit more information she casually says, oh ya know, “Cheers”, as in, Danson, Long, Harrelson, Alley, Grammer and so forth.

Wow, this woman wrote for HIT television shows. i tell her that i want to be a writer and that i want to have a book in Oprah’s Book Club one day and i laugh at my silly notion.

Kay cuts me off mid-laughter. She is not laughing. i sit up straight in my chair and grab my pen to write down what she was saying to me:

“Make life choices to reach your goals, and NEVER be embarrassed of your goals”.

If i want a book in Oprah’s Book Club, then Kay thinks i should aim to do so. but whenever i think about doing what i’ve always dreamed of my head starts swimming with all of the possibilities and all the ‘right steps’ to get there.

i don’t know much about Kay other than her friendly speaking voice and the state of her migrating files, but i hear exactly what she is offering me, she is offering me hope and faith through the phoneline.  Kay has never met me and yet, she is willing her optimism to me.  i needed it, and she knew it.

Kay wanted me to understand that life isn’t about figuring it out, it’s more about showing up and doing whatever it takes everyday.

Before we were finished, i told Kay that it had been a blessing to speak with her. it was a pleasure and a gift to speak with someone a few states away, a stranger who invested in the nameless call-center operator on the other end. i was encouraged to dream again, even if it means reading and writing in the 15 seconds i get between calls at my job.

Now, everyday at my desk, in my stack of work notes and bulletins, i bring in my red notebook. the one where my Oprah’s Book Club novel might start.

Maybe one day i will dedicate that book to Kay.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

in between interviews

Although i have been on a slight hiatus from posting interviews, i have been interviewing people.  Between my 3 jobs, i just haven't had very much down-time to write up anything about the interviews. 

It appears that i have some time this week [time will tell] to sit down and write, so please look forward to Richard from Scotland, and Margaret from Raleigh.  they will be posted before the end of the week and i plan on interviewing more and more and more and more people!  So prepare yourselves!


Monday, April 12, 2010

Chelsea from Louisiana

True, she is not a total stranger, but as far as knowing someone, my roommate’s sister isn’t someone that would count as more than an acquaintance. So she counts.

The younger sister of my roommate, Chelsea was in town for a week, away from where she attends college at Southeastern Louisiana University. Soon to be 21, Chelsea has a remarkably mature spirit about her. Whereas i, myself, can often feel like i’m still 14, Chelsea acts more like a 25 year old than i do; and while my roommate had to go to work at her 8-5, i got to hang out with Chelsea quite a bit.

First impressions of Chelsea are somewhat misleading, and she knows it. She says that she often holds herself back from initial interactions with people because conversation doesn’t come easy with people she doesn’t know. But when she is around people she feels comfortable with, she is sarcastic, bubbly, outgoing. In order for Chelsea to feel comfortable, she has to know that she has something in common with the other person. i told her that i am quite the opposite.

i told her that i’m totally comfortable talking to everybody initially. In my experiences, i find that it’s easy to strike up a conversation about the weather, recent events, or to pay someone a compliment. It’s the latter part of the conversation that trips me up, the part where you run out of steam; when you find out they are really into fly-fishing and you know nothing about it. How do you connect with someone when your specific interests are not specifically the same?

i digress. Chelsea is an extremely good listener. After spending time with her for a few days, and of course, unabashedly wearing my heart on my sleeve (i spill, you don’t even have to dig), i asked “do you have any advice for me?”

She says “No. Usually I am good at giving advice because I am a good listener, but I am not inclined to tell people what to do.”

She paused and smiled, looks at me:

“Go to Ireland. DO IT.”

That’s the advice i’ve been avoiding. That’s the advice that puts bricks in the pit of my stomach. i have a great opportunity to go overseas and work with teenage youth in Bangor, Northern Ireland. Unwittingly, i have been stalling on making this happen. Why? Because of money. If i am to go and do a year in Ireland, i am going to have to raise my own funds and fundraising petrifies me. It makes me uncomfortable to ask for money, as i am sure many people are nodding in agreement, but the opportunity to go would be an incredible adventure and a huge risk in today’s economy.

me: What’s the biggest risk you’ve ever taken, and did it pay off?

Chelsea: The biggest risk I have taken is to trust God 100% on going into ministry in NYC for the Here’s Life Inner City program. I have a heart for the needy, but I had to surrender to His plan and not my own. We were homeless on the streets of New York for 3 days and nights as part of the project! But the risk paid off because I learned a lot about God’s love for the needy, and about God’s heart for us to be serving the needy. It taught me not to take things for granted, but to appreciate the luxuries we enjoy like coffee or dessert [or a warm bed!]

me: Why is it so important for you to serve?

Chelsea: Because I am trying to be as Christ-like as I can be. We are called to serve people, and it’s about learning to surrender to what that means.

She told me that it is hard for her to understand how there are individuals who claim to be a ‘believer’ but they aren’t serving anyone. She does not know how one can read the Bible and not be challenged to help the needy and the poor. She said that we all serve somebody and that we shouldn’t look for the praises of people, and that there are often no rewards for serving others, besides the service itself.

i enjoyed talking with Chelsea. No, not just because i can talk my head off about my own life and thoughts and problems and triumphs ‘til the cows come home, but because Chelsea is a gorgeous girl with an amazing spirit. She may consider herself shy and reserved, but all i see is a girl who is blossoming. A humble girl with a heart to serve others; which is often, i am sure, a burden to bear as one considers all of the suffering in the world. A girl who is learning to love herself as much as the plights of the needy, a girl with the potential to change a lot of lives for the better.

me: Are you happy?

Chelsea: Uh, yeah I guess. More often recently I have had unhappy days. But I have family, friends, a place to sleep and food. So at the end of the day, I have everything that I need.

me: How do you want to be remembered?

Chelsea: For loving people. Not just the homeless, but all people. For giving even when I have nothing. I want to be remembered for being a mother and a wife, or an artist, you know, for great stuff.

me: Are you headed that way?

Chelsea: I hope. I don’t know. I do my best to love people. I do my best.

It was refreshing to talk to someone who has hope for the future. i can’t say that i am always so optimistic about the future: having not had a steady “real” job in quite a while, after failed relationships and various estrangements, in light of a looming fundraising endeavor, or the fact that i may be hopelessly single for a long time. Talking with Chelsea was a breath of fresh air, a reason to hope, a reminder for hope, and a memo for me to ‘take heart’.

Monday, March 29, 2010

story and life inspiration

From a blog that i frequent and find highly enjoyable, the thoughts below are challenging and just what i needed to hear today, enjoy!

i noticed that #12 is missing too.  Gotta love that. 

Maybe i'll get to meet Keri Smith one day.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Mr. Anderson, almost 95

i met him when i was a delivery driver for my previous job.

On Thursdays at 5pm sharp, i brought him a hot meal from the kitchen that i worked at.  When i would knock, he would move forward in his wheelchair and say 'Come in young lady!'.  I would let myself in, quickly unpack the paper bagged dinner, and have a seat on his couch.

Our interactions were always short, as i was on the clock for work, but we always managed a bit of basic conversation: weather, television, food, his late wife, reflections on life.

The first time i ever delivered to him was one week after Thanksgiving last fall.  Thanksgiving had been hard for me as it was the first holiday without my priceless grandfather.  After speaking to Mr. Anderson for only a few minutes, i found myself in tears.  i am a tender-hearted person; my whole family is disposed to tear-filled eyes with only the slightest sentiments.  But as i left his front porch i burst into tears.  My heart ached for my own PawPaw, having seen similar echoes of typical old men: gruff voice, stubbornness, friendliness, wood paneling and outdated pictures.  i knew that Mr. Anderson was someone that i was going to look forward to seeing every week.

Every week...until i stopped working there.  i had given my notice and it was the last Thursday that i would be delivering his food; i knelt down next to his wheelchair 'i won't be coming by on Thursdays anymore to deliver your dinner, i'm sorry."  He said, "You stop by anytime you want to, the door is always open for you young lady."

When i stopped by on Friday this week, i was not sure how Mr. Anderson would respond to me or my writer's tablet notepad.  Sometimes he doesn't remember meeting me, or seeing me merely a week before.  Friday was one of the "I don't who you are" days.  It made me sad to have to reintroduce myself to him; to see the look in his eyes when he realized that he should know who i am, and that he can't find a trace of me in his memory to draw on.

We sat in silence for a few minutes, i didn't know where to start.  i asked about his wife, as i know she is often his favorite and most cherished subject to talk about.

Tell me about when you met Theda.

"I was 17 and she was 15 when we got married.  I met her in school, she was the prettiest girl, and I was in love with her from the minute that I met her.  There's never been a person living that was as highly thought of as much as her.  I think as much of her today as when I first met her.  When I lost that woman up there, [he motions to her photo on the mantle], I lost everything."

This is a thought that he has shared with me many times.  This line haunts me almost every time we speak.  He says this often, pausing before and after he says it.  lost everything.  He still wears his wedding ring, a thin gold band.  I do know that it has been years since Theda passed away.  He still takes care of himself for the most part, even though he is probably what you would consider a 'shut-in'.  She had been his everything, and now she was gone.  It was a devotion that I saw in my own PawPaw after my beloved Gran passed on; everything was changed.  My heart ached.

i asked him to tell me about his family, and about his childhood in Goldsboro, NC.  He did not want to tell me much about that, saying that most of his family was dead now, except for one brother.  When i asked for his living brother's name, he couldn't remember it and said "That can't be that important, can we just leave that alone?".  i felt guilty for highlighting a bad spot in his memory.  He moved on.  His father had been a retired railroad foreman, but he also owned a farm during the Depression.  He worked on the farm, 'those were the days when a $1 was a $1 and men would work for $.50 a day'.  When he was old enough, he enlisted with the Marines and was stationed in the Pacific during World War II.  He said that when he got back, he never spoke about the war because 'war is war and it wasn't right to talk about it once I got home.'  My heart ached.

He and Theda built a home in an old neighborhood of downtown Raleigh.  Mordecai used to be in the woods and considered to be the countryside, now it is a neighborhood with a mixed lot of young families and retirees.  Theda raised their two children while Mr. Anderson worked as a freight driver.  He liked to drive and he wanted to see the country.  He liked that he would be in a different city every night and could see the countryside of America.  His extended family wasn't too far away and he would come home whenever he had the chance.  He said 'I had a family, I loved them all, I still do."  My heart ached.

He smirked as he told me that they had to drive to South Carolina in his father's Model A Ford in order to get married.  He and Theda had not even told his or her parents where they were going or what they were going to do that day.  But you couldn't get a marriage license in North Carolina if you were younger than 16, but they allowed it in South Carolina and so they set off to find a Justice of the peace.  After they had driven all the way back to Goldsboro, they parted ways and went to school as usual the next morning.  They each had to tell their families and their classmates that they had gotten married over the weekend.  It wasn't until a few months later that they began to function as a married couple: alternating between their family's homes until they were able to get a 2 bedroom apartment for themselves.  His light blue eyes and faint eyelashes flutter as i saw him reminisce about his late bride.  My heart ached.

Mr. Anderson asked me why i was writing things down.  Not thinking that he has any life-lessons to offer, he said that it would be pointless for me to write anything he was saying down.  It almost seemed as if he were miffed at me for recording any of his words.  i told him that i was going to write something about our time together, because i was learning from him.  He told me not to bother.  He'll be 95 this year, born on June 3, 1915.  His weathered hands and silver hair are souvenirs from a life that he says he enjoyed every minute of.

i guess that the biggest lesson i am learning from Mr. Anderson, especially in our extended conversation on Friday, is that even with all the heartache, life is worth living.  Even when a person may feel like they haven't done anything worthy of praise or worthy of recording, life is still worth living; he's still here, his heart is still beating. Regardless of what he may think of himself, i value him, i value his words, the lessons are being passed down.  He is making a difference to me.

It's my belief that everything works together for good, whether it's good that is apparent or good that is hidden.  Mr. Anderson has no idea what his time with me has meant to me.  i'm sure that he has made a lot of good happen for those around him, and most of all, he's taught me that love is powerful, love is important, it carries beyond this life and it connects us to one another in ways that are hard to describe.  And that is a lesson that anyone should be grateful to witness.

**i have not included actual pictures of Mr. Anderson because i am not sure how Mr. Anderson would want to be portrayed.  this is an exception to what will usually be the rule.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

stranger at Snoopy's

i ordered my two chili hotdogs, and greasy fries.

It was a pretty day earlier this week, before the rains, and i was glad to be grabbing something quick to eat.  Groceries have been sparse while being mostly un-employed.  Quite grateful for the babysitting gigs i've been able to string together, i am still technically 'job-hunting'.

My liberal arts degree [Philosophy & Religion] draws laughter and criticism from most potential employers.  The usual inquiry is "And what did you want to do with that degree?"; and more often than not, my feathers get ruffled.

i answer "i had hoped to go into youth ministry.  That doesn't seem to be in the cards for right now, but i am interested in ________ job because.....etc."

My feathers get ruffled yes, and i have to reign my sharp sarcasm in.  The retort in my head is often like this:

insensitive potential employer: 'And what did you expect to do with that degree?'

me: 'Oh, you know, i went to class everyday, graduated Magna Cum Laude, and earned my degree just so that i would apply and interview for this entry-level Administrative Assistant position and have you look down your long nose at me for not having majored in Business. 

The department and the professors that i learned from taught me how to think for myself, how to observe the world that has existed before my time, how to connect to the people i am surrounded by, and above all, how to rise above any notion that i am any better than anyone else because frankly we're all in this together.'

i was considering the job prospects that lie before me, although they are slim, i have some decisions to make: Stay in Raleigh?  Try moving to a new city by myself?  Explore the option of moving to Ireland for a year as a church-worker?

That's when i notice it.  i don't know how i had missed it before.  A pair of birds, or one really sick bird, must have been quite comfortable on the branches above my car earlier in the day; and they left me a nice, whopping smear of bird-poo on my passenger's side window.

A man in and Escalade pulls into the parking lot of Snoopys.  Parks right in front of where i am standing.  He gets out, surveys the menu, in the meantime, i nod to acknowledge him.

He says "Beautiful weather isn't it?", i nod and tell him how glad i am that the weather is finally warmer.  He has his hands behind his back, folded together; his white t-shirt is thin and he's wearing loose fitting sweatpants.  He can tell that my car is the one that he just parked next to.  He motions towards it.

"Shit on your window" he says with a smile on his face.  "It looks like they had a party doesn't it?" i reply.  He laughs.  He says "One time I was driving down the interstate with my arm out the window.  I don't know how or why, but when I got where I was going, I had purple and pink bird-shit on the sleeve of my white t-shirt and down my arm.  I guess it happens to us all sometime, better on your car than on your arm."

He was right.  Things could always be worse.  We all get crapped on in one way or another; literally and figuratively.

Later that night, it rained and the bird-poop was gone.

Things are looking up.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Marilyn in the Park

It was the second day after i had launched the YourStoryMattersToMe project, and i was in the park with the children that i sit for. There was a woman and her granddaughter just on the edge of the playground. As the sun was setting  and it was time to leave, we headed in her direction and as we did, i could tell that she wanted to talk to me. And, well, i was not opposed to it.

She was an older woman, in her early 60's, gray eyebrows, red hair, light blue eyes. She says her name is Marilyn and that her granddaughter's name is Clarice. Clarice begins to play with the older boy that i am watching. Marilyn tells me that she came across this park on accident; that she and Clarice were headed downtown for dinner but the train had diverted them into the park for a spell. She tells me that that she and Clarice spend 3 days a week together after-school.

Without Marilyn, Clarice would have to ride the bus for 1 hour to and from school. Instead of allowing Clarice, who is in first grade, to continue feeling lonely and alienated on the long bus-ride home everyday, Marilyn volunteered to pick her up 3 days a week. She and Claire have a relationship because Marilyn CHOSE to have a relationship with her granddaughter.

She said: "My daughter and son-in-law were like, Are you sure you want to pick her up and watch her this often? to which Marilyn replied "Of course! I want her to know me and I want to have a relationship with her."

i asked Marilyn what she does, she tells me that she had retired at age 50 a few years back, after having been an accountant. Her husband's job as a computer programmer was secure and provided more than enough for them to live on. She laughed as she said that she had just bought her Mercedes when her husband's company went under and he lost his job. She said that when that happened, she had no choice but to come out of retirement and go back to work. She found a job at a temp agency and worked in three different offices before she was able to work part-time at her son-in-law's business.

Marilyn's husband has been going blind for a few years now, and she told me with a distant look on her face. She wasn't seeking pity, although, that is the emotion that i felt immediately. As i spoke to her, i asked her if she had any advice for me about finding a job. Her answer:

"In these CRAZY times? I don't know if I should be giving any advice on that! My father, who finished school in 1936 said that when he got out, he and his friends took WHATEVER THEY COULD FIND. Maybe that is what you should do, although, it looks as though you are already doing that."

i do have to say that i wasn't exactly encouraged by my exchange with Marilyn, more like challenged by it. i don't want to do "Whatever i can find", the thought of this sends my mind to babysitting, waitressing, cleaning, etc. But in the same stream of thought i find myself asking "What's wrong with those things? Aren't i called to serve?" the answer is Yes. i would hope that my own sense of entitlement isn't keeping me from experiencing my life, and serving others.

This was our final exchange, as we parted ways my oldest boy and Clarice acted as if they were devastated to be told that their bird and squirrel hunt was over.  i was surprised and caught unprepared for my conversation with Marilyn in the park, as i had nothing to write on and my camera was out of my purse. She will never know that she was a part of this project, or that she was being interviewed, unless someone can figure out who she is and then pieces puts us in touch. i was glad to talk with her; for us to provide adult-conversation for each other for a little over 20 minutes. In any case, from now on i'm equipped with notepad and camera, ready to embrace the conversations that are provided for me as i continue to learn about myself through others.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

meeting: Ken

As much as this YourStoryMattersToMe project is aimed to meet and interview strangers spontaneously, i went out on a limb to meet and interview Ken.  After hearing Ken being interviewed for NPR on "The Story with Dick Gordon", i quickly facebook searched him, and 'friended' him.  Under normal circumstances, i intend to meet and interview strangers 'on the fly', i will defend this interview as justifiable because Ken was a stranger, regardless of our intentional meet-up.

Ken, is not your typical Duke student.  In fact, Ken isn't typical in many ways at all.  in graduate school at Duke, Ken is in process of writing a thesis for a Liberal Studies Masters Degree.  His Liberal Studies degree is an interdisciplinary degree covering a broad spectrum of topics in various departments such as: literature, history, political science, biology, etc.  Ken helps tutor students at a local school, studies on campus, works out at the gym on campus, and he cooks, eats and sleeps every night in his van. 

The main way that Ken is not like your typical Duke student: he lives in a van that he bought locally for $1500.  No it is not 'down by the river', but it is on Duke's campus, in a spacious parking lot, with a large grassy field that he likes to think is his 'backyard'.  He jokes about starting a garden on the Duke lawn that he parks in front of, Ken aims to live a simple life.  Not wanting to go into debt, and learning to live within his means, Ken has found a way to afford higher learning with a little creativity and a lot of adventure.

While living in a van is definitely a story worth telling, i was prepared to recognize Ken beyond his current van-dwelling experience.  (for more about Ken's van-life, visit his blog here.  i highly recommend it, and tell him yourstorygirl sent you!)  Ken's adventuresome lifestyle has been exemplified through his experiences hitch-hiking, living and working in Alaska as a tour guide, and during a 2 month "voyage", equipped as an 18th century explorer covering 1500 kilometers across Ontario in a birch bark canoe.

Whew, just squeezing in 2 hours with Ken became an endeavor for me, but we managed to meet for coffee.
i had to talk to Ken.

i asked him a question: would you change anything about where you've come from?  As in, if you could meet a younger version of yourself, is there anything you would say to your former self?  Not missing a beat, Ken pondered and responded:
Wrong turns are lessons learned, they become parts of your character.  It is impossible to visualize anything different.  Who I am is who I always wanted to be.

Whoa.  Pretty wise for a 26 year old.  He recalled a specific moment from when he worked at Home Depot in the parking lot.  A bumper sticker that read, Remember who you wanted to be, stood out to him one day as he was pushing the carts across the lot.  He said that he stood still in his orange apron, and he took the time to remember who he wanted to be.  Continuing, he said that misery breeds insight.  from a job at Home Depot (and in other jobs i presume) Ken was able to see how many people dreaded their work-life 5 out of 7 days a week.  it drove him to ask "Why are you living this way?"  In his experiences, Ken acknowledges that a majority of people have the elbow room to change their lives for the better and yet they don't.  He says it takes courage to change things, to reinvent yourself.

In his trek across Ontario, Ken was challenged by an interaction with a man who had been intrigued by Ken's trip.  After showing interest in why and how Ken and his companions were making the voyage in the birch bark canoe, the man went on to say "That is really fantastic for you, I could never do that".  Something about this comment didn't sit well with Ken, he thought to himself "there is nothing that makes me special except that I am willing to test myself."  Ken went on to describe how he thinks too many people do not understand how much we, as humans, are capable of in mind and body; that it is amazing how we are so unwilling to discover what we can do for ourselves.

Ken, who has a beaming smile and kind eyes, reminded me of the boys i used to tag on the playground.  Thoughtful with words, careful in demeanor, Ken was kind enough to treat me to coffee.  He also gave me a tour of his home, humored me as i rambled every time i spoke, and repeated after me as i taught him how to pronounce "Appalachian Trail" as we do 'round these parts [lesson here].

There are many more things i would and could like to write about Ken, he is definitely someone to watch; he has big ideas and big dreams and when he gets there, he won't owe it to anyone but himself.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

accumulated stories, part 1.

there haven't been any strangers strolling into my life in the past week.

of course there have been times in the past week when i was in the company of strangers: grocery store, coffee shop, restaurant, a playground, Census Bureau testing site, etc.  but there weren't any conversations with people i don't know that seemed to trigger my inner Barbara Walters.

the things that have shaped me this week, have been conversations with estranged friends.

i am not using the word 'estranged' in the hostile sense of the word, but in the sense of 'fallen out of touch', 'on different pages in life', or 'we just don't make a point to incorporate each other into our busy lives'.

at least four different types of these conversations this week.  three of them were in person, one of them was in a long and encouraging facebook message.

here's what i learned:

part one: after posting a facebook status about my current unemployment situation, i received an email from Max, who used to be my Manager when i was a waitress at a local restaurant.  i put in my notice late in the summer of 2008, he left the restaurant shortly after, although the two of us leaving had no bearing on the other; we were both done working there. 

Max wrote to tell me that although i may not have the fondest memories of him, that he is really encouraged to see what i am like outside of the restaurant setting.  he said that my facebook updates "let me see you for the person you are which is: smart, clever, very creative, fun loving and good."  the day that i got this email, i was having a hard-hard day.  i was energized to know that Max had logged in and made a point to speak to me. 

After returning his message with a grateful response, he wrote to me again, encouraging me again: you are a principled person grounded by a strong faith. You've got a good heart and your motives are true. So act you act out daily life, keep that in mind and the actions will flow a little easier.  What I really like about your facebook updates is the consistency in optimism. You aspire to good times, good people and good situations regardless of whether life is giving them to you or not.


it was so strange to have someone, who i haven't spoken with since Fall 2008, who was almost an antagonist in many of our interactions in Summer 2008, whisper their way into my attention in the past week.  Max isn't a stranger, but he was an out of touch co-worker from my past.  what i've learned from these conversations with Max are many:

truth carries:  i am honest in my facebook statuses, and that honesty is appreciated.
not everybody has it figured out: Max has been unemployed just as long as i have been.  He's been living out of his car on a grand-adventure touring the U.S. since he stopped working at our restaurant.
preconceived notions are garbage: you can't guess what tomorrow will bring, so throw out your expectations.
you are an investment worth making: anybody who tells you otherwise needs to invest in themselves a little more.  every step you can make towards being authentic and yourself is a step worth taking. the people who 'get you' may not be many, but being yourself is a reward in itself; who cares who else 'gets it' as long as you do.
some people make it, some people don't: but there is no reason to believe i am not in the former.  circumstances change, character is what matters.
optimism is contagious: and it doesn't have an expiration date.

it has been encouraging to me, in a way that i know is from the Spirit, for me to know that the things i needed to have confirmed, and the things that i have been questioning are being addressed in the conversations that i have had with the people who have helped me be the person i am today.  i am cared for, i am valuable, i am not alone, i am writing my story, i am learning the stories around me; we are all worth the time it takes to listen.

parts 2-4 to come soon.

Monday, February 15, 2010

William from Brooklyn

i was planning on eating my turkey-cuban alone. Glancing occasionally at the screen flashing NickJr, the machines in the empty restaurant humming over the volume of the tv. The restaurant owner's 5 year old daughter sat at a table that was closer to the tv, bouncing in her seat as she ate gold noodles from a paper plate.

i opened my bag of chips, dumped them onto my plate, and was glad to have finally procured food at 3 pm. i had an absentminded morning, forgetting to eat as i perused the internet and played FreeCell. i was excited to eat, but made a conscious effort not to inhale my food for fear of scaring the cute 5 year old two tables away.

Enter William.

William is a youthful and friendly communications and network salesman. He walked in, took one look at my pressed sandwich and asked me what i was having. "turkey cuban". William spins around on one foot, and immediately tells the woman behind the counter that he wanted what i was having.

Instant connection.

William, bordering on awkward conversation with the owner's wife, is looking for me. He doesn't know that he is looking for me, and up until that moment, i wasn't aware that i was looking for William. But here we were, i recognized it and asked William to join me for lunch.

We started talking. William tells me that he knew God was using him the second that i asked him to have lunch with me. He says that he doesn't have accidental conversations with strangers. They always have a reason. He tells me that from time to time God gives him chances for conversation just like this, so that he can help people, and i am assuming, that people can help him.

Aside from hoping to spell my name in the masculine way, William understood me. He understood why i had to leave a job that i enjoyed because i felt like i was being taken advantage of. He understood why i was having trouble wrapping my mind around a recent issue in one of my closest friendships. He understood, he nodded, and then he told me how it was.

William told me that i am in a 'growing place'. He said that my life is being shaped by the Potter. sometimes, the old vessel is shaped, baked, and then broken again, melted down, and reshaped for the betterment of the vessel.

i told him that i agreed. i said that i felt like i was getting my education in the real world. That i believe that every opportunity is a chance for learning, and if you go through something, you had better learn from it, otherwise, you'll repeat it until you get the lesson.

William was nodding. He said he called this the 'left-back' theory. He said that in grade-school, the kids who didn't get to pass on to the next grade were left-back, and that life does the same to you once you are out of school. You are given lessons and when you don't learn the correct way, you'll repeat it until you do. left-back.

William grew up in Brooklyn, but has family in Georgia, Florida, and New York. He travels now for a large company and helps smaller companies sign up for phone services. He writes when the Spirit strikes him, and has a friendly disposition. His smile is warm as he tells me about himself: has lived in Raleigh since 2007, would hope to decorate his apartment with Pier 1 furnishings, was downtown today to handle a speeding ticket he wasn't going to get out of. William recommended that i go and see "Book of Eli", the latest Denzel movie. He also suggested that i rent Mad Max with Mel Gibson in order to see how far movies have come since the 80's. i didn't even tell William that i love movies, and analyzing movies, and over-analyzing movies.

We talked for almost 2 hours. We talked until the owners were turning off the lights and had finished cleaning up their shop at 5:00. We talked like old friends, and walked out with one another into the misty early-evening. We exchanged contact information, acknowledged that we had both quite enjoyed our time together, and then we parted.

i think it is easy to assume that strangers are people you'll never see again, and most of the time, you are probably right to think so. My instinct is that strangers really can be friends you haven't met yet. Sometimes traipsing into your life only to shed some light and provide assuring words from the Spirit, other times to provide much-needed comic relief or a boost of confidence.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

finding meaning in the seemingly mundane

i hope that this new endeavor will prove to be something meaningful not only to myself, but to the people i hope to meet along the way and who will share parts of their souls with me so that i may be enriched.

It has been an idea in the back of my mind for a long time now, an avenue to combine 3 things i love: talking to strangers, story-telling, and writing.

i want to interact with the people that i cross paths with because i believe that everyone has something worth sharing.

The lessons that all of us learn in our lifetimes are too numerous to document. this is my personal effort to soak in the human experience. To explore conversation with people in passing. To shape [and be shaped by] the world around me.

Life is too short not to talk to the other people who are passing through it with you. There is no interaction that is unimportant and every interaction is an opportunity to learn something new.