talking with strangers

Husband claims that I can, and quite likely will, talk to anyone.

He also wonders, on occasion, if I’m not performing, just a little. Going for the big laugh, or maybe a little bit of extra attention.

The laugh definitely, the attention, maybe. (I am the 6th of 8 children; “Me! Me! Pay attention to me!)  (Hmmm, maybe it’s the other way around.)

But really I just enjoy talking to people.


I was looking through a catalogue once on an airplane, of flowers and plants. A striking, beautifully dressed, elderly woman was sitting next to me, and asked me if I liked to garden. We chatted about perennials and annuals and vegetables and butterflies, and when the plane was approaching our destination she reached into her carryon and brought out a beautiful tropical flower (hibiscus? gardenia? I’m afraid I don’t remember) that she had clipped from her garden as she left her Florida home behind to head north for the summer. This bloom was resting on a dampened square of paper towel and lovingly zipped into a ziploc bag. She handed it to me, with a sweet, gentle smile, “From one gardener to another.”


From when First Son was first aware of people around him until around preschool age, he was quite gregarious. Sure that everyone we met would be delighted to meet him, and to hear what he had to say. He walked smilingly up to a grumpy looking old man in a mall once, caught his eye and said “HI!” And the man grumbled at him, and turned away, and First Son looked both puzzled and completely crushed. The first time in his awareness that he wasn’t met with absolute welcome and joy.


I was waiting for the “accessories” battery in my car to be replaced today (the one that starts the car, and which has been failing me way too frequently and way too easily lately). It was taking a bit longer than I expected, and people were coming and going, ebbing and flowing. One woman commented, as another of the customers was brought the bad news (Ma’am, I hate to tell you, but your water pump is leaking. Oh, and by the way, your brakes are bad) that it was a bit like sitting in the waiting room at a hospital waiting for the diagnosis/prognosis. Then another started talking about her dogs, and her now-gay ex-husband, her daughters, her saggy neck. . .

It continued from there.

I was greatly amused.

We had a veritable kaffee-klatsch going, but without the coffee. (There had been a man there, but he had left; I think when I left there were 6 women in the room. It did give me the opportunity to quote the Morgan Freeman tweet: “Women pay attention to what they hear, and men to what they see. This is why women always wear makeup, and men always lie.”)(I did get the big laugh.)


I’ve been thinking all day about how easy it is to close ourselves off from people. People are inconsiderate on the road, inconsiderate in lines or blocking entrances into buildings or texting while you’re stuck behind them in auditorium seating so that you can’t get out while the entire rest of the audience gets between you and the exit door. We stop smiling, stop chatting, stop meeting people with the expectation that they will be happy to meet us; and there is so much to lose.

I’ve heard the joke made that “There’s only one kind of person I don’t like. . . (Wait for it). . . . Others.” And everybody laughs. But I think it’s maybe a bit more true for most of us than we would like, or at least than is good for society, although I suppose if you’re a complete and hopeless misanthrope, keeping to yourself might be better for everybody.

There was a study done recently, where a change in policy was presented in two different ways — in one description, it was good for YOU, your freedom, your choices, your liberty; in the other description, it was good for society. The one that is good for you always wins.

This doesn’t necessarily surprise me, but it does sadden and worry me just a little. Even questions regarding environmental policy, or gun control.

Maybe we don’t look out for, or to, each other because we don’t feel anyone is looking out for us.


I had a long and tedious and frightening recovery from head surgery 17 years ago. It was at least 8 weeks before I felt anything close to normal. I had few visitors to my hospital room, where I was stuck for a week; no meals delivered to my house by any friends or students or neighbors. My mom and one of my sisters came and helped for a couple of weeks. That was nice. My husband-at-the-time felt an incredible obligation to put his 10 hours in at work every day no matter what the situation was at home, and my sons were 3 and 6.

I have never felt so alone.


We need to reach out to people. Yes, sometimes it’s easier to stick our noses in our book or pretend to talk on our cell phone or not volunteer to help at the spaghetti dinner.

But think about what that costs.

There are people out there to talk with, to laugh with.

And who knows, (and even though it goes right back to the “but what’s in it for me?” question), they might even give you a gardenia.

2 thoughts on “talking with strangers

  1. We’re all humans. Being.
    I just read Jared Diamond’s “Why is sex fun?”. Part of “being human”, part of our evolution, is the social groupings we live in. It is tied in with our large (though often empty) brains, large heads to put them in, offspring unable to fend for themselves for YEARS instead of minutes, and all the rest. We all like some “me time” or to be alone with time to think. But without other people… ?

  2. We’re all (just) humans. Being. I like it (even though I just changed it a little).

    Just heard an interesting thing on npr about cave swallows and how aggressive and sometimes downrightly anti-social they are in their complex social networks, but how you never see one living alone.

    I thought, “. . . . . INTeresting. . . .”

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