Does this happen to you: you’re out somewhere, doing something, maybe just walking down the street, maybe grocery shopping or waiting for your oil change to be completed, and you make contact with a stranger- eye contact, you extend a warm “hello” or a gentle smile- and before you know it you have been…for lack of a better term…cornered; roped into a conversation that you can’t understand (or remember exactly) how you got into and can’t see a way out of?
Several weeks ago a friend and I went to a large flea market. Much of the market essentially functions as a giant yard sale, where there are some real gems to be found but most of it is just junk, but there is another part which is contained in a climate controlled building. The stuff for sale in here is generally of higher quality, real antiques. This building also houses the bathrooms, and it was while in one of these buildings, seeking the restroom, that my friend and I had found ourselves in one of these conversations.
It started out innocently enough. There was a petite white haired woman standing behind the counter of a very large booth featuring a range of items, from furniture to jewelry. As I approach my friend, who is talking to this woman. “I’ve had this booth for 40 years, ” she’s telling my friend. “I don’t have children of my own and my customers are like my children.” I smile at my friend, then the woman. She continues, without missing a beat, telling us about how she grew up around the corner, but moved to Florida when she was newly married where she lived for several decades before moving back home with her husband. My friend and I have enough time to utter a single word of acknowledgement before she’s onto the next topic. It was cute to listen to her, rewarding to feel like we were connecting with her- giving her something she needed.
But then it happened. The cute little old lady behind the counter starts telling us how her husband keeps trying to make her quit (the booth), but she refuses. She tells us that he is abusive, that she tries to keep the clean but every time she does he comes around behind her and destroys it. “He gets up at 3:30 every morning, because he goes to bed with the chickens, and when he gets up he turns on the TV and it comes blaring down the hall to where I am sleeping on the couch and it wakes me up.” My friend and I start looking at one another from the corner of our eye. She continues. She tells us that she was married off (by her other) at 13 and a half years old to a 29 year old man who lived down the street and that by 14 she was having a baby, but she didn’t know what to do and when she went to the hospital, alone, she was put in the basement and after 6 days of labor she was given drugged and when the baby was finally born it was dropped by the nurse because someone yelled her name and startled her and the baby landed on the concrete floor and was killed [breath], but she later learned that there were three babies were born and that all of them died, but one of them must not have because there was one birth certificate from that night but none of the women who gave birth know for sure if the baby was theirs.
Holy s**t is right.
Neither of us knew what the hell we were supposed to do; we felt terrible for this woman…we wanted to fully open our hearts to this woman…we also wanted to run.
Then there’s the woman that I regularly see at Whole Foods. She (relatively recently) had a stroke and has relearned to walk and talk and do, well, EVERYTHING after being told she would never be able to do ANYTHING and she LOVES life- every minute of every day (I have never seen her without a smile on her face. Not once.)- as well she SHOULD. But she wants to share that love with you, every time you see her. You know that you’ve met her many times before and you know that you know her entire story but she does not. I should let her tell me anything she wants- she deserves to tell me her story over and over and over again because she survived and we should all be so lucky to have this kind of honest love of life. But sometimes I just want to get my yogurt and pork chops and get to work. I’ve found myself making purposeful movements around the store in an attempt to avoid making (even accidental) eye contact because I just don’t want to get caught in a conversation where I am not able to be as present and honest as she is. It leaves me feeling uncomfortable, and guilty.
Because what could possibly be more important than being reminded about how precious and beautiful every day really is? Seriously. What is more important than that?