Written by Margarita Morgan
July 22, 2014
While in my daily life I try to minimize my time around other people, In situations when I’m cornered and strangers have some questions or just want to talk while waiting in line or at the doctor’s office, I’m not shy at all, as a matter of fact, many times I’m the one to start the conversation. For some strange and unnatural reason, as an avid and purposeful introvert, talking to strangers presents no problem at all. It could be that working as a Bus Operator for 24 years desensitized me to feeling threatened by their curiosity or eagerness to engage in conversation. It could be that I’m a closet extrovert, but whatever the reason, I like talking to strangers. There are too many interesting stories that need to be discovered, other stories want to be discovered, but the best of them all are those hidden gems that people treasure that unwittingly they share with you because of some serendipitous moment that got them to open up and tell you all about it.
That fateful day on September 11, 2001 when America experienced a most devastating tragedy, I was working and there were dozens upon dozens of people that boarded my bus throughout the morning without saying a word. Distracted by the daily routines of my job, didn’t pay attention to this phenomenon until I passed by the airport in Burbank and saw the airplanes lining up every one of its terminals. At the bus stop, when I opened the door, a man waiting for a different bus told me that all the planes were grounded because of an attack in New York. He said that the Twin towers were lost and that there was chaos everywhere. I thought looking back at my passengers, “wait, what? Sure they were quiet, but surely, If it was such a dire situation someone would have said something!” The answer was obvious. Those that knew about it were too shocked to speak of it yet and those of us who didn’t were too self absorbed to notice anything. I had to ask and little by little we all got the entire picture. Since then I make a point to speak out when I notice people acting odd and more than once I’ve been rewarded with news and or witty replies.
On another occasion, a man was trying to strike a conversation but people kept ignoring him. Finally he saw me and headed to the front of the bus where he may have noticed I could go nowhere. When he started talking I was tempted to tell hem I needed to concentrate on driving the bus, but decided against it since we were near the end of the line. Soon I found out that he was trying to mend his ways and all he needed was a little encouragement. He was a young man plagued mostly by a lack of common sense and wanted to know if it was worth trying so hard to be a good person when he thought he was so stupid. In my attempts to come up with words of encouragement, I might have mentioned that effort is always worth the results and that every time he tried, he would be stronger. I told him to expect better decisions the stronger he got and that it would take time, but to take heat that change was happening in small steps. Whatever he got out of my conversation, he got off the bus with a renewed spirit and a purpose at the very least for that day. He needed to tell his story and listening at that time was a great way for me to see into the heart of a person that almost nobody wanted to look at.
The first time that I found out what a treat it was to listen to strangers was when I was new in college and on my way home from school. I sat down on the bus next to a little old lady who immediately started asking questions about my school, my major and such. Before I could try and escape, she started talking about her life as a young student and continued to share everything about her young life when she could do anything. My bus companion never complained about the pains of age, but instead focused on all the wonderful things she experienced as a youth. By the time this little old lady left the bus, I’d had a very touching experience as she was very grateful that I had listened to her entire story with out a sign of objection. She walked away happy and cheerful and left me with a sense of loss because I got to feel comfortable with her and at the moment I felt that I was saying goodbye to my own grandmother. That was the very first time that I consciously thought I should listen to more of people’s own life stories.
I can’t tell you that it was an easy thing for me to do. I was painfully shy and starting or engaging in conversations with strangers was a daunting prospect, but this little old lady gave me an alternate approach, I could very well listen to people if they wanted to share. Since then, I’ve learned to appreciate the intrusion when people I don’t know want to converse or just ask questions. It also gives me a challenge, if there’s time, to seek out that jewel in their hearts. I love to be a repository of personal stories and no, if they are private I never share, so don’t ask. Once in a while, I recommend that you let your guard down and listen; it may reward you as it has for me plenty times.
The Daily Prompt
It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist. Do you try to switch seats, go for a non-committal brief small talk, or make this person your new best friend?