Like this: Lessons from Strangers

A few weeks ago, I was struggling with shyness as I sat on a bench in a park near an old and interesting man (pictured above) who paces the park most days making strange gestures and mumbling to himself and whom I desperately wanted to talk to, but couldn't find the courage to strike up a conversation with. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the answer came in the form of a young man walking by, who saw me sitting there and simply walked up to me and said, "Hey. Whatcha doing?"and just like that, struck up a conversation with me. Isn't it amazing how sometimes we ask these questions of Life, how we struggle and complicate, and cry out, "How?" and then Grace comes in the form of a stranger who says, "Like this."

For The Sake of Strangers
by Dorianne Laux

No matter what the grief, its weight,
we are obliged to carry it.
We rise and gather momentum, the dull strength
that pushes us through crowds.
And then the young boy gives me directions
so avidly. A woman holds the glass door open,
waits patiently for my empty body to pass through.
All day it continues, each kindness
reaching toward another - a stranger
singing to no one as I pass on the path, trees
offering their blossoms, a retarded child
who lifts his almond eyes and smiles.
Somehow they always find me, seem even
to be waiting, determined to keep me
as it must have once called to them -
this temptation to step off the edge
and fall weightless, away from the world.

I remember sitting in my car one day, several years ago, at a stoplight in downtown Abilene, Texas, on my way home after a long shift at the bakery. I remember it as a time in my life when I had lost sight of something important, life seemed to have lost its meaning and I grumbled through my days discontentedly, crying out to the ether, "How? How should I live?" And as I sat, waiting for the light to change, the downtown trolley passed by in front of me. In that trolley, hanging out the window was a young, mentally handicapped boy, who had the closest thing to bliss I have ever seen all over his face. He seemed to be having the ride of his life and was looking with fascination at and pointing to some shiny thing on the ground as the trolley slowly rolled through the intersection. I don't even know what it was he was looking at, I remember following his eyes, trying to see what was bringing him such delight, to some shiny spot on the ground beneath him. Maybe it was a spot of oil, a coin, or a shard of glass, shimmering in the light, I can't recall now. But what I can recall with perfect clarity is the image of his rapturous face, so perfectly filled with delight at the sight of the simplest thing, something shining in the light, at the touch of the subtlest thing, the soft breeze in his hair. It was one of those moments where time slowed down, almost stood still. It was as if life, slowly and deliberately, was giving me the answer to my question in the form of this gift of a moment. And somehow, it was what I needed. Somehow this tender gesture jarred me awake to the joy of living. Some of our greatest teachers enter and exit our lives quickly. Be attentive to the things and people around you. They might be embodying the answer to your question, whispering in your ear, "Like this."


Ruth said...

The question, and the answer.

You almost always bring me to tears. And those are always, always good moments. Each one is eternal.

Bless you.

Janet's Journey said...

I love that you write such articulate posts about "Whatcha doing!" The picture is so tender and stark at the same time. Phillip and I are spending Saturday with Amanda, working on her new apartement. Wish you could be there too!

jaximagination said...

Isn't it sad that we live in a world where we tell children not to talk to strangers out of precautionary necessity? Think of all the things we could have learned from those strangers before our adult minds became filled with so many walls of mental blocks...