I have a friend who likes people.
I know this because I’ve seen her talk to them. A couple weeks ago we were walking together on a trail near my home, and she actually smiled and said “good morning” to every person we passed. I walk this same trail several times a week, and it never occurred to me to speak to any person I encounter along the way.
I do not like people.
I’m so incapable of small talk that I let Bryan hold our stationary three month old after church so I can busy myself with chasing our two year old around the building and not be committed to any particular conversation (“Oh, excuse me, I think I just saw Ruthie throw herself in front of a truck.”)
I envy my Friend Who Talks to People.
Lately there has been a homeless woman who camps out in the parking lot across the street from my house. She has two or three shopping carts full of belongings that she moves around town with her. The first time I saw her I didn’t know what to do about it. She talked to herself quite a bit, but seemed harmless so I didn’t want to complain to the police about her. So in my attempts to be more compassionate and people-oriented in the vein of my Friend Who Talks to People I tried to come up with something to say to this woman.
But what do I say? Do I bring her food? Do I offer to help her find a shelter? How involved should I get, and is it wrong for me to have to think so hard about it?
In the end I caved to my own weakness, chickened out, and decided to call my Friend Who Talks to People because she will become this homeless woman’s best friend from the first warm smile and the sort of hug that only my Friend Who Talks to People can give.
Wouldn’t you know it, before I even had a chance to tell her about the homeless woman she had already sat on the curb to chat with her, learned her name, her life story, and how she became homeless. The next thing I knew, my Friend Who Talks to People was loading this woman’s belongings into the back of her minivan so the woman could check herself into a homeless shelter!
Now, why didn’t I think of that?
When I lived in New York I had a friend named Grace who was a gregarious Italian from Brooklyn. She loved people so much her husband used to tease her that she’d strike up a conversation with a light pole: “So tell me Light Pole, how long have you been standing there?” I found her magnetic personality refreshing and entertaining, if not a bit tiring at times. She was more than just my muse, though. I watched her. I paid attention to what she did and said to complete strangers. I found that she was compassionate, that kindness oozed from her like honey.
The other day as I walked the trail with my two kids in the double stroller and my dog, Scout, on her leash, I got the usual amount of comments regarding how full my hands must be (blah blah blah), and I started to think about my Friend Who Talks to People, and my friend Grace, and even my sister who visited from a whole other state and STILL said hello to people she FOR SURE wouldn’t know.
And I thought to myself, How hard can this really be? I mean, it must be in my genes if my OWN MOTHER can become best friends with the labor nurse over the course of my daughter’s entry into this world (picture a lighthearted chat about how hot the weather is this time of year in Minnesota while I am naked, squatting on a ball, and groaning like a boar in heat).
So I started saying “good morning” to the people I passed on the trail that morning, and a strange thing happened… people smiled at me! And they said hello, and they didn’t shoot poison darts at me or punch me in the nose or laugh at me!
THEN I got all crazy and everything and asked for this gal’s phone number who’s daughter was in the same tumbling class as my daughter because I thought we could get together for a play date once the class ended. But whoa, that ended up to be WAY too much friendliness for me and I have yet to pick up the phone to call her because what on earth would I SAY?
Like Bill Murray in “What About Bob?” I’ll just have to take baby steps.