I can’t begin to count the number of people who cautioned me about being friendly with the locals. “If you smile at someone, be prepared to spend the next 30 minutes in conversation listening to their life story.” Ok…. Really? Really! This is a fascinating phenomenon that always catches me by surprise. This L.A. girl is accustomed to avoiding any eye contact in the hopes of preventing road rage! How in the world will I ever settle into this new way of interacting with strangers? Yet, I am totally compelled by the idea that strangers can be friendly. Who knew?
In the decision to leave Phoenix and take root across the country, I made a commitment that my life was going to focus on relationships. Which isn’t to dismiss the importance of duties and contractual responsibilities; however, I no longer wanted to allow myself to get bogged down by those things and miss out on the irreplaceable moments I have with the people I care about.
I’m convinced that this old dog can learn a new trick, and perhaps, interacting with strangers instead of avoiding them will help keep me focused on my relationships , turn this big city SoCal girl into a Southern Belle… and maybe, if I’m lucky (ummm….maybe not a great word choice….) actually get a date!
In honor of this Southern “way of life”, I thought I’d share some of the conversations I have had with the locals in the brief time I’ve been here.
• Mrs. Shelbyville and I met at the square. It was my first morning in Tennessee. I went for a walk to explore my new surroundings and asked her to take a picture of me on the steps of the courthouse. This was her first time using a digital camera. She was so cute looking for the viewfinder. She was a beautiful woman. I guessed her to be in her early 70’s. What a surprise to me when she told me she was 91 years old! She told me about her career working in a pencil factory for 50 years and how she enjoyed every minute of it. She was at the square that day searching for her husband’s name on one of the bricks at the veteran’s memorial. We spent the better part of an hour looking for his name together and talking. To hear her speak of her life and her experience reminded me just how young I am and how much life I still have to live.
• Isa and I struck up conversation with Mr. Parking Lot while writing the contract for the drum rental for her at a local music store. As she began to talk about her love for playing the drums, he invited us to come watch his band play, thinking that she would be inspired by the two percussionists the band has. We went, and she got to play with them. Of course, she loved every minute of that! Since then, Mr. Parking Lot and I have become friends… something I never would have expected would come from what was initially a business transaction. (And if you are wondering how he got the name Mr. Parking Lot when this story is about renting a drum, you’ll have to stay tuned for future posts.)
• Mrs. Preacher came into my work looking for furniture for her new home that is being built. As she told me about her recent move and her new home, I found we had some things in common. Most notably was our sincere love for the Lord. She told me of the many places and capacities that she and her husband, a military chaplain, have ministered before entering retirement; which was what led them back to Tennessee. We talked about how the plans we have for our lives often do not factor into the path the Lord leads us on. As we sat at one of the dining tables on the floor, she stopped mid-sentence and prayed for me, boldly and Spirit-led. That completely turned around the difficult day I had up to that point. She and I bonded that morning, and we remain in touch.
• Often, between dropping Isa off for youth group and waiting to pick her up, I will sit at the coffee shop and get caught up on emails. This particular day I left home without my laptop. Unsure of how I was going to fill my time, I decided to go to the coffee shop anyway. This is where I met Mr. Peace Corps. He was a handsome (ok, actually, he was HOT!), young, professionally dressed guy. The conversation started with the usual small talk but as time went on I got to hear about how beautiful and unique Zambia is as a landscape and as a people (and therefore Zambia is now on my “must visit” list). We talked about education, sports, family and pursuing things we are passionate about. It was a refreshing conversation that left a lasting impression.
• Yesterday, I went into my local Walgreen’s. Ms. Louisiana noticed me in the hairspray aisle. She said that she had a coupon for the Aussie hairspray I picked up and told me to be sure to check out at the cosmetics counter. When I did, she began to tell me her story of how she came to middle Tennessee for school and never left. She told me about how she raised her 7 kids here. She shared with me some of the challenges she has faced in the past 30 years but spoke so confidently that she is right where she is supposed to be; and when it is time to be somewhere else, the One who controls her life will be sure she is on the right bus. I was very encouraged by her outlook and saw myself in her.
Each one of these encounters, albeit for that moment in time or those that continue to influence my life, had a significant impact. Had I chosen to hold on to my old way of thinking, I would have missed out on these wonderful people, their wisdom, insight and encouragement. Sometimes friends can be found in the most unexpected places at the most unexpected times. I am so thankful that I did not adhere to some “schedule”, rushing past these moments because each one, in its own way, was a gift.