A couple weeks ago I ventured into a local import market and produce stand for the first time, and I did what I always do in situations in which I have no idea what Iâ€™m doing: I put my head down and marched quickly through the store. I couldnâ€™t figure out whether the market was run by people of any particular ethnic group because there were people of many nationalities in there, but the handwritten signs on the deli case looked like some sort of middle eastern language. I think.
There was a woman in the produce section whose four year old was mesmerized by Thomas (as am I at all times), so I had stopped to let the little girl flirt with my son. I find that having children makes for great ice breakers, donâ€™t you?
A little further on, when I noticed the handwritten deli signs, I asked the woman if she knew what language they were written in.
She did not know.
I am a terribly shy and self-conscious person around strangers and am terrified of making small talk. Iâ€™m much more at ease when thereâ€™s actually something meaty to talk about, but I know, I know, it takes some getting to know you to get to that point. It wasnâ€™t until my third or fourth Divas Book Club meeting that I felt like I was truly being myself (the bottle of wine helped!).
So asking this woman about the signs was kind of a big deal. It was intentional. It was something I truly wanted to know, but I also felt it was a good conversation starter. I could have lived without knowing the language of the writing, I would not have lost sleep, but I was challenging myself to talk to a stranger.
Surprisingly, the woman asked me where I was from. â€œJust over there in Renton,â€ I stammered.
â€œOh, from America, then?â€
â€œYes,â€ I said, slightly flattered that I looked so worldly.
â€œWhere are you from?â€ Iâ€™m never sure if thatâ€™s a politically correct question to ask someone, but I figured since she started itâ€¦.
â€œI am from Africa – Tunisia.â€
â€œIn North Africa, near Morocco.â€
â€œAh, yes, Morocco.â€
I stammered awkwardly through several questions, learning that her husband wanted to finish his education in the U.S., and that they had both been professors. Or teachers. Or something like that. I was too nervous about making small talk to actually retain any of the information.
When I ran out of questions I excused myself and went to stand in the checkout line.
On the way home my heart sank when I realized I never even learned her name. I never asked if she wanted to get our girls together to play. And I realized that I had really wanted to, but was too afraid.
I felt like Iâ€™d had the opportunity to make a new friend â€“ one who seemed interesting, and educated, and probably full of stories to tell â€“ and I blew it. I felt convicted. Not guilty or shamed, but convicted.
I had taken it this far before and failed. About a year ago when Ruthie was in her first tumbling class, there was a woman with a girl Ruthieâ€™s age, and she was pregnant again. Since Thomas was just a month old at the time I completely sympathized with her, and offered to call her for a play date sometime.
The woman gave me her business card â€“ she was a scrapbooking supplies consultant (right up my alley) â€“ but I never called her.
I thought about her every day for months, but I never called.
I wondered how she was doing after her second child was born, and I thought about bringing her a meal, but I never called.
When I signed Ruthie up for her second tumbling class a year later, I thought of calling her to see if she would like to sign up her daughter, too. But I never called.
The other night there was a car accident on the street behind my house around 10pm, so I went out to see what happened. Many of my neighbors were out there as well, including the ones I pass by everyday and nod to, as well as neighbors Iâ€™d never seen.
After getting the skinny on what had happened, I excused myself and went back inside. I simply showed up, got the information I wanted, then left again. And I kicked myself again because I had not learned any of their names.
The last time we were all standing on the street together was two years ago when a house down the street burned down in the middle of the night. We were strangers congregating during a tragedy, offering to help, offering a bed to sleep on, though we had never met.
So, not wanting any regrets again, I went back out there. I met Megan, my next door neighbor, who I’d seen plenty of times but never actually met. And Candy down the street and her two teenagers. And the other gal (see? no retention) and her husband in the white house with the front porch.
Iâ€™m beginning to realize that I donâ€™t talk to people only because Iâ€™m shy. That’s part of it, but the truth is, Iâ€™m also partly apathetic. In reality, Iâ€™m not sure I care all that much about you. I may say I do because thatâ€™s the Christian thing to do, but my actions and choices and the way I spend my time and money does not always reflect an attitude of caring about you.
But in the face of tragedy â€“ car accidents, burning houses, earthquakes, tsunamis, and airplanes crashing into buildings â€“ we are ready to jump in and do our part. But what about the everyday tragedies – like lonely people, or new moms who are overwhelmed? Or what about just connecting with the really cool people around me â€“ tragedy or not â€“ just because they are interesting and lovely?
Iâ€™ve been meditating on this passage in 2nd Corinthians lately, because it speaks to living generously. Bryan is making a comfortable living now, and while I enjoy owning all the fun toys that a comfortable living affords us, I donâ€™t want that to be all I desire from having money. I desire to have a heart of generosity, and I desire to be a good steward of what God has given us so we can in good conscience BE people of generosity.
But even beyond the finances of it all, I desire to be generous with my time and with my emotional capacity, and to not be so engrossed in my own bubble that I donâ€™t have the energy to open my eyes, look up, and notice all the interesting people around me.
And I desire to somehow do all that and still get my laundry done.
Is that possible?
I love this passage because it reminds me that Godâ€™s grace abounds, giving me all I need for every situation â€“ whether it is my time, friendship, or emotional support. It reminds me that maybe when I start to feel overwhelmed again by my own life, maybe I should think about stepping out of it for a bit and learn more about who you are.