I was on the meat aisle, hunting for pork tenderloin, when a lady stopped me. “Hey, it’s good to see you!”
I must’ve looked blank, because she explained that she’d worked at this particular Walmart for a while, and we’d chatted about healthy eating. Though I didn’t remember that conversation, I sensed that she was indeed familiar, and I listened to her bubbly, enthusiastic news about their new house, and how they’ll need a new fence, and their yard is larger than she’d realized, which is good but then the fence has to be longer, too . . .
After congratulating her on the new house, I walked away, thinking about how positive and energetic she seemed. The word “exuberant” might have been coined just for her.
Then I thought of how different I am and many of the women I know. We’re consumed with image or cares or fears: what will others think of me? have I successfully juggled all my balls in the air or has one crashed? if I smile at a stranger in Walmart, will they think I’m deranged or notice my coffee-stained teeth or snap at me to mind my own business and keep those stupid smiles to myself?
(Or am I projecting my emotions on others and everyone else thinks a smile is just a smile?)
I wondered why I suddenly wanted to be this woman’s friend and maybe, in a way, we are friends. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there’s a lovely incident toward the end where Lucy, a human girl, is leaning over the ship as it sails towards the edge of the world. She sees a young sea-girl, herding fish in an isolated part of the underwater world, and the two make eye contact. Lucy feels that in that instant, they have become friends. C.S. Lewis writes,
“There does not seem to be much chance of their meeting again in that world or any other. But if ever they do they will rush together with their hands held out.”
I rather felt that way with this woman. I don’t know her name. But I know something more important: her attitude toward others. She wasn’t afraid to stop a near-stranger, no matter the difference in our races or ages, and treat her as a friend. She was fearless.
I’m not. I’ve been known to duck down the wrong aisle to avoid the awkwardness of seeing a former acquaintance, or walk the long way around the store, or pretend to be absorbed with my dumb phone or grocery list.
There are many people I recognize from church directories or old high school yearbooks; we may not have met, but I know who they are (and often unflattering or personal details about their lives). There are others who would know me, but our past history is painful because of where it took place. Then there are the people who have forgotten me, simply because I wasn’t important in their lives. We shared a class or a pew or gym for a time and that was all.
I tell myself I’m trying to avoid these type of subtexts in a possible conversation:
“Hi, you don’t know me, but I know you’re so-and-so and you used to attend Church X and, yeah, that means I know this guy you’re with isn’t your first husband, but who am I to judge you . . .”
“Hi, I know you’d rather forget that you ever attended that church that hurt you so badly, but . . .”
“Hey, yeah, I know you’re going to be embarrassed that you don’t remember me, but we had a political science class together in our junior year at that college you graduated from over a decade ago . . .”
Creepy stalker-vibes, right? Judgmental self-righteous Pharisaical vibes, right?
I’m trying to avoid that.
But should I actively avoid them? What if they’re feeling as disconnected from the world as I sometimes feel? Wouldn’t even a smile, a nod, a hello brighten their day?
This woman at Walmart made me rethink how I behave.
Photo Credit: AimeeLow, on morgueFile.com