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?

1 comment:

Tia said...

Erin, your blog is great! I really enjoyed this post and your writing style! Can't wait to read more!