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Talking to Strangers

Updated: Sep 17, 2018

I recently found the following quote on Twitter, and found it entirely hilarious -

Meeting Strangers from the Internet

1998: - Don't get in strangers' cars - Don't meet people from internet

2016: - Literally summon strangers from internet to get in their car

The first time I took an Uber by myself, I was in Washington D.C. about a year and a half ago, and I was certain I was going to die.

Previously in this week, I had also solo-navigated my first taxi ride, my first major bus system and metro - with varying levels of success, I must admit. But it was the Uber, I decided, that would end me. Surely, this gentleman was about to kidnap or murder me, and I would never be heard from again.

At 8:30 A.M., I summoned a stranger from the internet (as the kids say) and behold, a kind and quiet older gentleman named Brian pulled up in his Mercedes-Benz about three minutes later. He was well-groomed, had elbow patches on his sweater, and was listening to NPR. We had a lovely conversation about coffee and my visit in D.C.

Be it my desperately extraverted tendencies or my stubborn desire to make an impact on people’s days, I tend to stray in the exact opposite direction of, “don’t talk to strangers.”

Sorry, mom.

This is why I didn’t think twice about road-tripping with a friend to stay with a random, but exceptionally kind family I didn’t know in Cookeville, Tennessee (more on that in a bit). This is also among the many reasons I love Disney World: only in this strange land, the happiest place on earth, is it appropriate at any moment to turn to the person next to you and start a conversation. Where are you from? Is this your first trip? How do you feel about your country’s election?

That last question aside from some well-intentioned Canadians, I have become enthralled with this kind of freedom -with the idea that everyone has a story to tell, something to teach you, or a need you can meet, and all you have to do is get them talking.

I have a strange blessing (or curse, depending on the day), that strangers feel they can talk to me, unload their lives, tell me their problems. A woman in Target told me about her family in Ohio; the clerk at RiteAid, kind and weary on a Monday, bemoaned that she was ‘always there,’ but was reluctantly excited about having Tuesday and Wednesday off.

Recently I listened to a podcast episode from This American Life exploring the modern need for things to be said, and the value of communication. Toward the end of the podcast the story was told of two people who stood in New York City and simply posed the ask to random strangers, “talk to me.” Story after story and hour after hour, the experiment unveiled that, “the whole city seems filled with people who need to get something off their chest” (Episode 234, Say Anything).

Everyone has a story to tell, and to approach them as such brings humanity to the mundane and worth to the overlooked. When we give people the freedom to be themselves, we also allow them to catch us off-guard in the best kind of way; to see something beautifully different in them, and maybe even speak to it.

Last weekend, my friend Claire and I road-tripped to Tennessee and stayed for most of the weekend with a family we were connected with, but didn’t know. They lived in a town we hadn’t heard of, spoke with sweet and strong Southern accents, and welcomed us without hesitation into a home filled with the most free and joyful kind of chaos. They loved like Jesus and practiced hospitality better than most people I know, not to mention sending us off with homemade jam. It was nothing like I expected, and I am so grateful - I have never felt so loved by someone I didn’t know.

Isn't that the best impression we can leave on people? Our greatest areas of brokenness often come from our most collapsed senses of belonging; there isn’t a soul you’ll meet who doesn’t want to feel seen and loved. Sometimes the most we can do is listen to their story.

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