Last week, in honor of my birthday, I added a new item to my bucket list: Record (after the fact) some of the meaningful conversations I have with strangers. As I thought more about this, something began to itch in the back of my mind. I felt like I had written about this topic once before. I have a binder of old papers from high school and college tucked away in the back of my closet, so decided to do a quick skim. As it turns out, I had written about talking to strangers before. In a college admissions essay.
I laughed at myself. You don't ever really change, do you? ;) I've posted the admissions essay below, partially for entertainment purposes, but mostly as a kick-off to the future recordings of my conversations with complete strangers.
My friends find it intriguing--if somewhat funny--that I tend to make, what they have termed, five-minute friends. On a recent trip to an amusement park, I boarded each passenger cart alongside a complete stranger, yet exited the ride having heard a snippet of a life story. Whether on roller coasters or in line, I seem to encourage people to talk about anything from what they ate for breakfast to their recent date. At one point, though, I was on the other side of these conversations, befriended by an old man about six years ago.
I was twelve and wondering around my grandmother's art show. Suffering from the boredom of looking at the crocheted beanie baby tents, I was irritable and ready to go home. I flopped myself into the nearest folding chair and let the boredom creep into my facial features.
A voice came from behind me, "Excuse me." I turned around, ready to make a short and sweet exit so that I could go find another place to watch paint dry. When I glanced over my shoulder, however, a friendly face greeted mine, and a wrinkled hand offered me a small object. Somewhat intrigued, I turned fully around, shyly accepted what he gave me, and muttered an ashamed "hello". Seeming not to notice--or perhaps choosing to overlook--my grumpy attitude, he introduced himself as Curt and nodded toward the small item in my hand.
"This is a happy rock," Curt explained. I suppressed a smile at the sight of the googly eyes of the quirky Italian chef painted on the front. Curt continued, "Someone gave it to me when my wife died of cancer. It gives me strength. I made some replicas in case someone might need one. Keep it." I flipped over the rock and ran my fingers over an inscription of a Biblical passage. My previous mission of finding another pouting spot had evaporated and I spent the remainder of the afternoon talking to Curt.
That day is anchored in my memory, but the full impact of our conversation didn't stem from what he said. In fact, aside from his introduction of the happy rock, I can't recall a word of what we said. I just remember feeling a renewed energy, and surprised that Curt let me do most of the talking.
In hindsight, I can trace my five-minute befriending back to that experience. I try to emulate the style of the old man, sans happy rock, and not expecting to have any sort of profound impact. I've discovered that, like my twelve-year-old self, everyone has a story to tell or an urge to provide some explanation of their behavior to a complete stranger. I''ll also admit that the happy rock still bounces around in the change section of my wallet. Who knows? Someone might need a little more than five minutes.