Friday, April 19, 2013

Strangers Among Us

Today's ponderings is peculiar, a different voice if you will. I guess I'm venturing away from the whimsical a bit in order to release this pensiveness that seems to be hounding me since the tragedy in Boston, the explosion in Texas, the vote by our NRA-owned Senators with regard to background checks for guns...
My heart sits heavy this week; like an anchor.
But forge through it with me, for the end will leave us with a small gift.
The gift's called Hope.

On the Stranger Side of Things

If there was ever a week to deviate from my usual subject matter for just a few  paragraphs or two, it was this last one. What do ya know?
A race. A city known for social activism and charity. A celebration. A stranger(s).
One family waits at the finish line.  And then the stranger decides to change their lives and the lives of hundreds and hundreds of people in a push of a button.  Happens every day, somewhere in the world, just not on our soil, damn it.
Hard to understand. Complicated.  And the painful aftermath is a stinging heartbreak that, for so many, will cut deep for a lifetime. 

There are as many solutions as there are people offering them. Opinions I have read, voice sentiments ranging from “All we need is love.” to “Pray for the victims.” to “Jesus is the answer.” to “Find and kill the bastards.” 
In the day, I truly believed in number 1; Love is the answer.  All we need is love, John Denver and pretty daisies growing freely in an open field.  But I suppose time has left an edge of rust or crust on me and though I love to love, I no longer believe it is the only answer.

An inventor named Charles Kettering once said, "Keep on going and chances are you will stumble on something, perhaps when you are least expecting it.  I have never heard of anyone stumbling on something sitting down."  We need to stumble on some solutions. As I'm writing, it's becoming quite clear that this kind of mindset, and it is a mindset, begins with me; begins with me not sitting down but rather getting my ass up and making a difference. Simply reading articles on Facebook about all the harms, injustices, violence in the world, and then reposting those articles, isn't enough.  For me, I can't just fall to my knees, put my palms together and pray for God to save us all and bless America, especially 8-year olds watching a race in his own city.
For me, I can't simply complain to anyone who will listen, or write a letter to the editor of my local rag or a meaningless blog...  I must swing my front door wide open and run, not walk, out into this world and take action!
I must speak up every time. I must donate my money to the causes I believe in and not donate my money to representatives that do not represent me. I must make phone calls.  I must...We all must.
Because history tells me, that's the only way to create change. And I must remember that all strangers are not bad people.  That we must not give up on humanity as a whole, even though small parts are evil.
We're taught as children, don't talk to strangers. Of course, for so many, the boogie man or boogie woman was not in fact a stranger, but a known "friend" or family member. But nonetheless, there was a conditioning that strangers could and would potentially harm us. And look what happened in Boston. They can. They do.
But what if the strangers that pass us on the street, stand next to us in a grocery store line, wait on us at our favorite restaurant...what if they are are rare gems, loving individuals? And what if we actually took the time we think we do not have, to extend ourselves to them? 
This last week, when strangers were hurting strangers in Boston and all over the world, I had two incredibly meaningful encounters at the gift shop where I work part-time when I'm not doing my nanny gig. 

Shelby browsed for well over 2 hours. (she had to move her car twice 'cuz she was parked in a one-hour parking space) She asked really lame questions and didn't appear to have a need to buy a damn thing.  In my mind, I was irritated with her and I could have come across as slightly chilly.
She (finally) came up to the counter with a few items and out of the blue she compliments me on my ring and asks if I am married. For some reason, that probably has to do with being the smart-ass of my family in order to make a point, I replied, "Sort of."  Her smile was anything but stranger-like.
The next hour (she had to move her car one more time) was spent talking, laughing, crying (no joke) revealing refreshing and intimate tidbits of our passions, our beliefs, our life-stories, our feelings on religion, politics and other human stuff...
She paid for her items and I bagged them up.  As she was leaving, she took one item out of her bag and she gave it to me.  "I want you and your partner to have this so you will always remember how valued you are as a committed, married couple." 
The item was a pair of origami figurines that signify marriage.
She had bought them to give to her fiancé.

Renate is a German woman in her mid-70's.  I've waited on her before and we have talked genealogy, tea and travel. Superficial shit.  But it was always surface chit-chat and, prior to the other day, I hadn't the desire to ask her name.  When she came in this time, her aura was noticeably heavy and sad.  I could feel it across the store but hey, I'm no therapist.  I sell tea.
So, I continued working and left her to her own business. Besides, striking up a conversation with a stranger, especially one that appears forlorn or down, takes effort and desire, of which, I didn't think I had either.
At some point, I noticed her eyes.  They were dull, colorless. I noticed that and I also noticed the way she held her handbag; tucked way into her side, almost clinched with both hands as if her purse was her security blanket.  I'd label her "fragile."
"You look like you could use a cup of tea. May I buy you one?" Those words came out of my mouth and I actually surprised myself.   We sat on two wooden chairs, sipping our tea.  She seemed hesitant, so I didn't ask anything. I simply babbled about the slowness of my day, the dusting that I've been putting off and the fierceness of the wind outside. 
She didn't say much at first; just forced a smile and sipped her tea.  Finally, she spoke in a whisper- voice, "My husband was just diagnosed with two kinds of cancer, both Stage 4. And my daughter, in Berlin, is getting a divorce. I wish I could be with her but I can't leave my husband right now."  (This shit is real, I thought.)
She kept her face down, stared into her cup of tea.  I could tell she wasn't used to telling a stranger her most personal sadnesses.  The next half hour or so was like a waltz; a perfectly executed waltz in which our conversation flowed back and forth with precision and grace; a timely balance of hesitation and forthcoming.
She reminded me of my mother.
When I hugged her good-bye, I hugged her as if she were my mom.
Then I noticed that some of the dullness in her eyes had lightened a bit.

Sometimes strangers are worth knowing.

On the Lighter Side of Things

The Cousin is a bit shy and needs some coaxing when she encounters a stranger that has "friend-potential."  Miles is 3 years old and lives across the street from her.  Miles has absolutely no problem making pals.  Yesterday, The Cousin and I were on her front lawn soaking up the rays while Sweet Pea was napping, when a cheery and confident voice calls out from across the street, "Hi! Do you want to come over and draw on the sidewalk with chalk? I'm drawing a ship!"
So, what does The Cousin do?  She immediately retreats behind my left thigh and grips my pant leg.
I always attempt to ease her mind. After a comforting "nanny squeeze" I yell,
"Thank you! We would love to see your ship!"  We head over to meet the little stranger.  After some time, The Cousin feels at ease and the art flows out of her like water from a sink's spicket.
She especially gets going when Miles has to depart for daycare.

Artists are born when the Sweet Peas of the world are napping.  It's a great time for The Cousin and I; forty minutes of "let's see what we can make, create, explore, solve together."  It's lovely until it's time to share again. Share the nanny.  Share the toys.  Share the cookies.  Sharing is an exceptionally difficult concept for The Cousin to grasp. ( I can't wait until her bro or sis arrives!) However today, she exhibited occasional signs of cooperation.

We hit the pavement running after lunchtime and it didn't take long for both of the munchkins to crash. THANK GOD!

When you gaze at them in this state, you have to ask yourself, "How could anything be more perfect?"
And you know what? Nothing is. This is pure perfection, folks. 
So is their laughter.  And like the meaningful connections we make with strangers, who are not the bad guys, but the good ones;
The sweetness of these two babies has left a "forever-mark" on my heart.
And so did Renate, the German woman who I hope will find me again. And so did Shelby, who has a heart as big as The Atlantic Ocean and whose intelligence and compassion is selfless.  And let's not forget Miles, who hasn't (yet) been tainted by people who are unkind.
All of these individuals, and their acts of connection, offer me respite from last week's tragic events.

I'm mushy today.  It is what it is.


  1. Valerie, you have such a down-to-earth, yet powerful, almost magical, way with words...thankyou again for touching my heart and reminding me to take the time to feel. I am fortunate to be your friend, Amy

  2. You drew me right in and expressed sentiments about this week that I hadn't talked about with too many people. Your encounters with the two women at the shop were so YOU...expressive, caring, listening, empathizing. I could just see you with the distraught German woman, feel your attentiveness and patience. It's what makes you a special person and extra-special friend. And yes, I was so touched by what you wrote that you brought tears to my eyes. Sometimes I just need to stop and count blessings...and you are among them. Thank you, friend.