View of Coronado and San Diego from the air. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Like most of you, my mother used to tell me to never talk to strangers. I disobeyed her then, and I disobey her now.
Even as a child, I was known to strike up conversations with anyone who would listen. I love to ask people about their lives, tell them stories, get to know them. I never understood the fear associated with those we don’t know, and I still don’t. As an adult, I can understand my mothers reluctance to embrace my trusting, friendly disposition. After all, you never really do know who you are talking to. But that doesn’t stop me from striking up a conversation with just about everyone I encounter.
I had a busy day at night at work tonight. The phones were ringing off the hook, there was a seemingly endless line of clients at the front desk, and the staff was backed up. The lobby was full of patients, and became increasingly fuller as sick animals kept piling through the door.
After a few hours, there was a brief but welcome lull. I popped outside to catch my breath. I leaned up against a column on the sidewalk and watched all the people rushing around. It was a cloudy, chilly day in San Diego, but the parking lot was as full as ever.
I wandered over to the newspaper stands to read the headlines of the day. Same old stuff, nothing interesting.
I leaned against the wall and closed my eyes. I took a deep breath to prepare myself for my imminent return to ringing phones, barking dogs, and frustrated clients. I heard movement beside me. Slightly startled, I opened my eyes to see a man standing a few feet away from me, smoking a cigarette.
He was an older man, early sixties, maybe. He looked blankly out into the parking lot, one hand in his pocket, deep in thought. “How are you today, sir?” I asked him, cheerfully. He turned to me and smiled. “I’m doing beautifully, just beautifully” he responded. “And you?” I gave him my standard response. “Wonderful, as always.” He liked that answer.
He asked me where I worked. Why did I look so tired? I told him I worked at the hospital next door, that I was having a busy day. He chuckled a little to himself. “People have too many busy day’s” he told me. I couldn’t disagree with him. I asked him what he was up to tonight. “Nothing” he told me. “Just enjoying my time here on earth. That’s what you should be doing, instead of working so hard on a Saturday night.” Again, I couldn’t disagree.
He smiled at me, knowingly. “It’s been a while since I’ve talked to a youngin like you.” He had a slight southern drawl, his words seemed to emanate a slower, calmer way of life. “Do you always talk to lonely old men you see on the sidewalk?” “Pretty much” I said. We both laughed.
I glanced at my watch and looked uneasily at the doors to the hospital. “You look like you need to be someplace” he said, picking up on my restlessness. “Work” I told him. “Always work.” He reached out to take my hand. “Well Leanne, a nice young lady like you ought to know there are more important places for you to be than work.” I stared at him a moment. How did he know my name? I had a sense deep inside of me that he was some kind of angel, sent down from heaven in a moment of stress to remind me of life’s delicate nature, to bring forth the values deep in my heart that I often ignore for a false sense of responsibility.
As if reading my mind, he gestured toward my scrub top. “I read your name tag” he said, and laughed again. He took my hand and shook it. “Thank you for being so kind to such an old man. My name is Charlie.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Charlie. I appreciate your insight.”
He released my hand as he told me drive safe tonight and to take a day off. I waved to him as I headed back inside.
I thought about Charlie for the rest of my shift. It really is rare to meet someone so warm, so friendly, so open with other people. I really feel like Charlie gave me something tonight, even if it was only something as simple as saying aloud something I needed to hear. It’s amazing what a smile and a hello can bring out in others. How simply acknowledging someone can foster meaningful connections.
Sorry mom, but I’m going to keep talking strangers. I want to meet every Charlie I can find.