“Thank you for talking to me!”
His words were surprising, direct, and intentional. Yet they were woven warm with all of the enchantment and depth that makes a human being unlike anything else in all of existence.
His words were heavy and laboured, nearly lost in his thick Hispanic accent. His smile lit a face deeply etched by the lines of age that had been sketched across a pallet of time and hardship. Indeed, his face was a mosaic of pain and loneliness that was instantly redrawn by nothing more than a handful of words said to him by a complete stranger.
“Thank you for talking to me!” he said to me.
This invisible man, whose name I never thought to ask, labouriously checked cars out of a sprawling rental lot at a large and bustling international airport. Menial, mundane, and entirely lost in the ever-shifting exodus of people, he checked out cars one at a time, day after day in this asphalt desert.
In the end, his life will not be remembered by many. When he’s gone, few will ask where he went or what became of him. He will be easily replaced by someone else.
“Thank you for talking to me!” he said with a robustness that set me back.
It all started because I asked him about his watch, as it was rather unique and quite attractive; I offhandedly asked him where he got it. Within a moment he transformed from a stoic parking lot attendant to a fascinating human being who suddenly looked a whole lot like me.
It was as if his watch was a magical porthole into a much larger story: his story. Within the few brief moments spent together, he shared where he came from, and where he has been.
Sometimes I wonder if we’ve become inhuman in our view of humanity. As we hurriedly rush from place to place, we’ve let the people around us become commodities that serve us along the way, rather than assets that enrich our journey. Too often we’ve robbed others of the very humanity that we demand they acknowledge in us.
In the disheveled rush and baffling mayhem of living out our lives, we need to hear people say, “Thank you for talking to me.”
When our own stress is crushing us and we’ve given everything that we have to give, we need to hear them say, “Thank you for talking to me.”
When we’ve had more than our fill of people and we’re starving for solitude, we need to hear, “Thank you for talking to me.”
When it would have made a whole lot more sense and been a whole lot more convenient simply to pass people by, we still need to hear them say, “Thank you for talking to me.”
For it’s in these moments, when we acknowledge one another as more similar than different, as brothers rather than strangers, when our paradigm turns on its head. Suddenly our fear of “the other” disappears. Our empathy grows.
So maybe it’s time to start talking. Maybe it’s time to turn our attention away from the egotistical mirror of self and look into a face other than our own. Maybe it’s time to realize that our greatest contributions are not the monuments that we construct, but the lives that we change, because we took the time to get to know those around us. Maybe it’s time to change the world one life at a time. Maybe it’s time to talk.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Susan Sermoneta.