Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Eyes of a Stranger

Have you ever really looked into the eyes of a stranger? How many times a day, outside of our jobs, do we pay attention to those we don't know

We see people when we cross the street, walk the aisles at the grocery store, get into an elevator, when we order our coffee. Everywhere we go we see people, have the opportunity to connect with them....but do we?

One of the things that I am always aware of when I am shopping, and someone is walking past me, is that so many passer by just don't smile. Rarely do they even look at anyone else. Okay so maybe you are naturally that pissy, but could you not even make eye contact? That takes no effort at all. Are these people that busy that they can't take the mili second to look me in the eye? Or are they too busy texting or looking at their phone? I am talking about people, all people, but I do exclude here the guy who looks at every pretty female he walks past.

When you're in the elevator and someone gets on, do you smile? When it's just you and another person and one of you reaches your floor, do you say bye? Perhaps you say have a good day. Maybe a smile and a nod? Just this evening as my daughter and I were on the elevator up to see her tutor, three elderly men got onto the elevator with us. You could tell they were quite the characters! Haley can sometimes get uncomfortable around people she doesn't know when they start laughing and joking. She always thinks they are laughing at her. I was aware of her posture so I put my arm around her. These three elderly men chatted with us, up to their floor. Each of them saying good bye or have a good night when they got off the elevator. One of them even jokingly asked me to make sure "Bob" got off on the right floor-I assured him I would. It was a small moment, only a 3 minute interaction with a few strangers, but it made me hope that Haley remembers that I was the kind of mom who was kind to strangers, always with a smile and a hello. I hope that when she looks back and remembers the times she grew impatient as I talked on and on to a total stranger, that she realizes it was because I was compassionate, caring and kind. And I genuinely like to know things about people. Someone may tell me something that they do or like, and I always want to know why.

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Have you ever met someone, even briefly and thought to yourself - I could be friends with that person. Have you ever looked into the eyes of that same person just to see if you could see something that you recognize? A commonality perhaps, or a similar character trait that you have have in common, or perhaps a character trait you wish you had. I think about character allot. In so many of the books I've read, you are asked to do an activity that makes you look inward, and describe yourself, list your attributes, your accomplishments. I always find that so difficult because I find myself describing myself as the person I aspire to be. It's hard to hold ourselves responsible though, so how are we supposed to know when we have arrived at that person we have aspired to be? I need a check list of some sort I guess! So go ahead, lets make friends with a stranger that is going to unknowingly challenge us to be a better person!

Or how about this? Have you ever spent an hour, or a day, or even a few moments with a stranger and you thought to yourself - I could marry that person! I could spend the rest of my life with him/her. Had you not looked that person in the eye, you would never have had that feeling, or the thought, whichever came first.

It seems in this day and age we have become so de sensitized to the human spirit, the kindness and compassion and the human touch. People seem to be so judgemental, get offended so quickly and shy away from people they don't know.

I spent years working in a cafe. I learned so much about people, humanity, the kindness of strangers who became friends. I learned a great deal about the human spirit and the importance of making that connection with someone you don't know, and just how much that kindness can change a person's life. Once, I found out that one of my regular customers suffered from major depression. Every single day he came in to our cafe, and stayed for an hour, sometimes longer. Sometimes he would be there more than once a day. I learned that he came to see us for his comfort, and that had it not been for our interaction with him every day, our kindness, our words of "have a great day", our smiles, he may never have been able to get out of bed some of the days. We changed his life, every day in some small way.

Now, I am only there at that cafe as a customer, and all these years later so is he. Still to this day I will greet him by name, say hello, tell him something funny and genuinely ask him how he is. He may not be a "friend" that I would call or hang out with, but he once was a stranger, who I took the time to look in the eye and say hello to. From that first day of hello, we were no longer strangers.

I also remember an elderly lady who would come in with her husband every once in a blue moon. There came a time when suddenly I didn't see her anymore, and I always wondered about her. One day, there she was with her daughter. When I asked her where she had been she told me the story. Her husband had died, and she wished she had to. She felt as though she had nothing to live for, and just wanted to stay in bed. Her daughter tried to get her out of the house but she didn't want to go anywhere. Then one day her daughter said to her "let's go somewhere that you and dad loved to go, he would want to meet you there." She told me she remembered how welcoming I always was to them. That they could sit there and I would smile at them. I don't know her name, I never did, or I have forgotten. But I was so honored to know that she had that as a memory. That maybe her husband was gone, but her memories were still there, alive and full of feeling, and once again, kindness was what made the difference. I took the time to look into the eyes of a little old lady and a little old man, and they didn't feel like they were strangers!

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So please, the next time you walk by someone in the grocery store aisle, in a long frustrating line up, the grumpy kid serving you, smile, look in their eyes, say hello. It may take a few tries, it may get frustrating, but keep doing it, because one day it will make the difference!

Happy Wednesday, and thanks for reading!


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