For whatever reason, random people love to talk to me. My mom possesses this trait as well – and as a child it drove me crazy. When I was a kid my mom and I could be in the grocery store, pumping fuel at the gas station, making a deposit at the bank – wherever – and complete strangers would ask her a question and initiate a conversation. And these individuals wouldn’t pose a standard question like, “Do you know where the cereal is located?”, or “Do you know how to get to the library?”, or even “Can you tell me the current interest rate?” No, no, these folks would ask totally out-of-the-blue questions, such as, “How do you make baklava?” or “Do you know where I could find a good seamstress?” or “Hey, what’s the normal range for a person’s blood pressure?” Crazy stuff. Seriously.
As a child, this behavior from strangers drove me absolutely insane. When I was required to make an errand run with my mom, all I wanted was to enter a building, complete the task at hand, and leave. Quickly. Uninterrupted. I had toys back home to play with, and snacks to eat. I had a life to live, darn it – and it didn’t involve crazy conversations with cuckoo citizens.
But I digress. Back to the initial topic of this post: the fact that strangers will frequently approach me, and begin a conversation. It happened today.
I was on a walk. Now, when I’m on a walk for the purpose of exercising, I’m wearing a hat, sunglasses, and I have headphones in my ears. My stride is brisk; my gaze, forward. It is clear that I am on a ‘mission’; that I’m engaged in a focused activity. I’m not just milling about, wandering aimlessly – I’m walking. And yet, as I was making my way through the park this afternoon, I passed by two older ladies on a wide walking path. The women were in their mid-sixties; one was progressing slowly behind a walker, and the other was relying rather heavily on two hiking poles, and moving a bit stiffly. I began to pass the women on the left; and as I made my way, I smiled my usual smile, and nodded a silent “hello”. Just before I cleared the women and resumed walking down the middle of the path, one of the ladies looked at me, smiled brightly, and declared, “We’re part of the new knees group!”
Huh? I wasn’t sure I heard the woman correctly (headphones firmly lodged in my ears and all), so I slowed, lowered the volume of the podcast I had been listening to, looked at her, and said, “Sorry? Were you talking to me?”
The woman repeated, “We’re part of the new knees group! My friend and I“ –the woman then nodded in the direction of the lady behind the walker- “we both have new knees. There’s four of us in the neighborhood that have new knees. We all got them within two weeks of each other. So now we all go on our rehab walks together.”
“Oh,” I said, not entirely sure how to reply. Not really sure why this woman was telling me all of this. Yet despite my uncertainty and slight confusion, I did what I typically do – I engaged as best I could. So I slowed my pace, and continued the conversation by asking, “Um, and… how old are your new knees?”
“Mine are six weeks,” the hiking pole woman answered. “And hers are four weeks,” the lady nodded her head in the direction of the woman behind the walker.
The woman behind the walker looked a little embarrassed, a little uncomfortable, a little bit like I imagine I did as a kid with my mom.
I said to the hiking-pole lady, “So you’re giving the new knees a test run, eh? Just breaking ‘em in a bit, huh?”
“Yup!” the pole woman responded brightly.
“Well, very good!” I replied cheerfully. “It looks like you are both making steady progress; terrific! Well, enjoy this great weather we’re having today, and enjoy your walk!” I then transitioned into a gentle, natural exit.
And as I resumed my semi-speedy pace, and continued on my stroll, I thought of my mom – and all of those people over the years whose days were made a little brighter by receiving a bit of her compassionate, caring attention. And I had a moment of clarity: those strangers weren’t necessarily seeking help or advice, but instead, desired a simple acknowledgement. They just wanted to be seen, to be heard. My mom understood that. And I realized I just did the very same thing; indeed, I do it all the time. And I smiled for the both of us.