“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.”
I know I have an advantage when it comes to connecting with strangers because I am single (and have been since the Neolithic Age). I have no distractions or people demanding things of me. I also wander about life solo a good portion of the time and connecting assuages my own feelings of aloneness.
Oprah maintains that in all of the interviews she’s done and stories she’s shared, the one common denominator in all people, be they Beyoncé Knowles or a murderer on death row, is that we all want to be seen. Do we matter? Do we count? Are we heard? With that innate need seeded in all of us, alienation and being ignored or overlooked can be the death of our spirit.
Aside of my wanderlust, one of the driving forces for my goal of living in cultures which have underlying foundations of rich human connection is to leave behind a city that fosters anonymity. But no matter where I am, the other advantage I hold is that I am open to connection. I seek it. And it enriches my life in ways that exceed worldly goods.
I went for a cherished bi-summer pedicure last month and brought in my laptop to do some writing since my Vietnamese guy-pedicurist is a silent type. His precocious 6 year-old daughter was in the salon that day. She was rather taken with me because I apparently have hair similar to Elsa the Snow Queen in the movie Frozen. I was soon to learn she’s obsessed with Frozen.
She wanted to know what I was writing and so I showed her one of my websites and some of my gift books. She began picking up books off the shelf.
“Did you write this book?”
“Ah … no.”
“How about this one?”
She sat next to me and narrated the entire tale of Frozen.
“Okay. Now write it,” she instructed.
“I think I best see the movie before I write the book to get it all straight,” I said.
“Let’s look at Frozen on YouTube!” she said.
“Okay, I can do that.”
I pulled up the theme song and asked her if she wanted to sing it.
“Yes! Yes!” she said, clapping her hands.
There we sat in the salon, belting out frozen fractals and Let it Go, Let it Go. She knew every word.
There’s something about engaging with a child that makes you joyfully lose your inhibitions and enter their twinkling world. I didn’t get to write a word, but I left with a refreshed heart.
Another day I was in the chic boutique, Value Village (if you say ‘village’ with a French accent it sounds impressive), looking at skirts. An Asian woman with a heavy accent came up to me with two knapsacks. She wanted to know which one I thought was best for an upcoming cruise with her husband. I could see she was extremely excited about this maiden voyage. I told her which one I thought was best and why.
Again, she came up and asked another question about the bags. I reiterated why my first choice was the better and gave her some more features and benefits.
“For $3.99 you can’t go wrong.”
She then began looking at clothing with me. I found this amusing since she was considerably smaller than I. She held up a black flowing skirt.
“This would be nice for cruise, yes?”
I laughed. “Yes it would, but I think you’d find it on the floor. It’s far too big for you. You need to look over there in the petite section,” I pointed.
“Yes, I know. Thing is, I just want to be near you,” she said in her heavily accented English. “You have good taste. You nice!”
When we lend an ear and share in the excitement of another, we reap the reward of a momentary flash of friendship.
One sunny day I went to the park after work to lollygag and bond with Mother Nature. After I’d gotten myself set up, I noticed that my red blanket and fuchsia top artistically matched the lush circle of flowers next to me.
As I lay reading Fast Forward Magazine, I heard some young Aboriginal people walking up behind me.
“Hey …. there’s Anna, that women who died … Anna Smith something.”
“No it’s not,” said the girl. “It’s Dolly Parton.”
I giggled behind my paper. Thank you, Victoria’s Secret.
One of the young men stopped.
“I’m going to stay here for a minute. You guys go ahead.”
He turned to me.
“Do you mind if I sit down and talk to you?”
“So … you died. Then you came back. Why’d you come back?”
I went with it.
“Well, sometimes you gotta come back and check things out.”
“Mmm hmm. So,” he said in all seriousness, “What’s it like?”
“Good. I think I’m ready to go.”
“Well, I drink a lot, you know. The doctor told me my liver’s really bad and I’m going to die.”
“Have you thought about maybe quitting and sticking around earth?”
“Awww, I don’t know. Maybe … You look so young laying there.”
I love gravity, I thought to myself.
“Your eyes are freaking me out. I’ve never seen eyes like that. I almost can’t look at you,” he said as he covered his eyes with a hand.
“Don’t be freaked out. They’re only eyes.”
I realized that for one thing, he’d likely only ever looked into brown eyes. For another, I’d guessed no white woman with green eyes had ever looked deeply into his. (However, in Native culture it is the norm to avoid prolonged eye contact out of respect, so this may have been a factor.)
We chattered a little more.
Then his friend came up and said it was time to go. He got up, shook my hand and thanked me for the chat.
As they got near their car, I heard him say to his buddy, “That was Anna Nicole Smith!”
“No it isn’t. It’s Marilyn Monroe.”
How beautiful we may look to people of other origins. Possibly I gave him the gift of listening, but he gave me the sweet gift of seeing myself as something I don’t catch much in the mirror anymore.
On the long weekend I went for a walk along the river. My friend Francis had introduced me to a couple who live along the path. They were outside, so I stopped to say hello. They kindly invited me to join them for a drink. He is a transplant surgeon and she is a pathologist, both from another country. Their son was cooking and I was invited to join them for a light el fresco dinner.
They are wonderful, intelligent conversationalists and good listeners. They asked many questions with sincerity. With this unplanned encounter, they gave me the gift of being seen and heard on a very solo weekend.
If we’re open to it, sometimes we can be the bridge of an amazing connection for others. I’m not usually the person who assists others in a big way, but because of my years in sales, I’m prone to promoting others.
In 2007 I took two wondrous one-month trips to Oaxaca, Mexico filled with interesting people and experiences. Within my first two hours in Oaxaca, I met a young waiter named Abimael. He asked if I’d like to trade English lessons for Spanish lessons and I thought it was a brilliant idea. We would sit in Oaxaqueño coffee shops and study one hour of English then one hour of Spanish.
He accompanied me on fascinating day trips to outlying Indigenous villages and went with me to see a strange medicine woman for a skin condition that I wanted to heal.
Abi was getting an English degree to teach and desperately wanted to come to Canada to further learn in an English speaking country. I live in a one-bedroom apartment so could not help out with accommodations, but set out to helping him find a place to go. I mentioned it in conversation with my sister. Soon she was plotting how she could help make it happen. She decided to invite him into her own home for the six-month visit.
I certainly wasn’t the earth angel, but I did connect Abi with one. My sister not only hosted him for free (no charge for anything), she took him with her family on road trips, introduced him to friends, found an English tutor, and helped him get a job earning more money than he’d ever seen in his life. She was happy with the much needed positive male influence he gave to her two young sons with his even mood, steady smile, and easy laughter.
We catch a hit of that beautiful bonding hormone, oxytocin, when we share positive emotion. We get it at weddings, when someone sings the national anthem, during a standing ovation, and when we watch amazing animals such dolphins playing or whales breaching. We get it when we find ourselves in amazing (usually unexpected) conversations or sharing any magnificent moment.
We can all give someone the precious honour of being seen and heard. It might be a stranger in a café, a colleague, or someone in our own home whom we’ve taken for granted or think we know fully. Even if our lives are busy, we can always take the time to flash a smile, give a compliment, or chat in a line. We can make our own day by making another’s.
People are good at putting up façades. We have no idea what someone is struggling with inside (Robin Williams showed us that), so if you hear a little voice telling you to connect, follow through. It just may be someone’s guardian angel asking.
Our hearts swell a little when we connect with others–it’s because it’s a crazy little thing called love.
An amazing display of human connection! (tissues needed)
Check out my website The Write Way Gift Café with some neat new gifts and a cool way to practice random acts of kindness for $5 a pop!
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Post © Wanda St.Hilaire
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