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.