1: a person with whom one has had no personal acquaintance
Sometimes I fail the little tests God gives me. Just this Wednesday, I was telling a group of friends that I hate to talk to strangers and that I almost never do it. One sweet friend shared her favorite stranger story, which involved high tea at the Ritz Carlton in London, a pastry chef and good old fashioned Southern pound cake. Then I shared a story about a Facebook friend who posted something about enjoying a great conversation with a total stranger. When I replied to her status saying that I hate talking to strangers, one of her friends shot back to me and asked how I could possibly get through life without talking to strangers - how did my friends become my friends? Being who I am, I obviously did not reply to this comment. If I don't talk to strangers in real life, I don't talk to them on Facebook either.
I went on to share with this friends that I truly don't like talking to strangers, even if I'm standing in line at the grocery store. Unless I have something in common with someone or some common bond, I'm just not inclined to talk. It's not like I need to share my thoughts aloud. Someone asked whether my approach to strangers (or lack thereof) had made it difficult to be at a new church. Well, yes. Even though I do make more of an effort there, in the hopes that the strangers in the pews around me won't always be strangers, my conversational small talk muscles are pretty weak.
I'm not sure whether God laughs or cries to hear my thoughts on this. I don't dislike talking to strangers because I'm highly judgmental. It's just that it makes me so uncomfortable, so acutely aware of the emptiness of my mind, so thoroughly without coherent words. I had cause on Thursday to examine my reaction to strangers when A and I were taking a walk to the post office. Things were going along fine for the first few blocks of our walk. The weather was beautiful and the walk was helping to dissipate some tension between A and I over an unkind comment. We were just about to start a game I'd observed from a second grade teacher: one student held a ball and named a noun, then threw the ball to another student who did the same and so on. A's had a bit of trouble with pronouns and prepositions, so I thought we'd give this a try while we walked. Only she was momentarily saved by a stranger.
As we turned off of our street onto a busier street, a young man was walking along. We slowed a bit to let him get ahead of us, but this proved ineffective since he was ambling along and we were walking at a quicker pace. When we moved around to walk past him, the young man turned to me and said, "Can I ask you a question?" I didn't miss a step, but inside I froze. What on earth could he want to ask me? "Uh, sure," I replied, the hesitancy clear in my voice. He told me the t-shirt he was carrying was for a friend. He thought he'd have people sign the shirt with encouraging words and their phone numbers so that if his friend ever needed to call someone, he'd have reminders right there. He wanted to know whether I thought this was a good idea. Failing this opportunity terribly, I uttered a weak, "Sure. That sounds like a nice idea." I'm wondering at this point whether we can politely disengage. Instead he asks me a follow up question, "Do you believe in God?" Oh my goodness. Seriously? I reply affirmatively, but have no idea where to go from there. He asks whether we go to church, where we go and shares the name of his church. I respond, but only just barely. I continued to feel less than up to the task of talking to this guy and in another block or so, A and I turned left to head on our way, while he continued on.
I felt even as A and I crossed the street that perhaps I was failing one of life's little tests. Maybe God was saying, "You think you've changed? Let's see just how much!" And I responded by saying, "Whoa! Not that much!" This lurking sense of failure was thrust back to the front of my mind a half hour or so later as we walked back home. As we neared the spot where we'd met the guy on the front end of our walk, A said to me, "Isn't it funny how one conversation can mean just a little to one person and a lot to the other person? Or how a young person can ask an older person for wisdom?" Ouch.
So how are you with strangers? Easy? Tense? Open? Shut off? Do you take advantage of the conversational gambits life throws your way or dodge them like knives thrown at you? Maybe one day I'll be able to hang on to a sense of self strongly enough to answer a simple question from a stranger without having every thought instantly flee my mind. Maybe one day I'll have changed enough for that to be possible.