Breaking the Silence - Strangers to Friends
Somewhere at sometime or another something happened or didn’t happen in the world that either caused or didn’t allow for us to break through the silence of stepping out from strangers to friends. For some of us (maybe even most of us, I can only speak for myself) it’s a fear. It’s a fear that I don’t understand, but like the fear of meeting people (with the internet as a buffer before doing so) and prior to that the fear of being homeless and long before that the fear of overcoming basic training and serving in the military..it’s a fear that I need to figure out and conquer. First I have to figure out what the fear is exactly. Am I afraid of saying hi and starting a conversation with a stranger because they might judge me? Will they think I’m crazy? Does it really make a difference? I mean I’m sure there are enough people that think I’m crazy for the life I’ve lived up until this point and that hasn’t stopped me. Maybe I’m afraid of that connection. I know that has a lot to do with the fear that I had traveling out and staying with strangers for days or weeks at a time-I was afraid of connecting. Worse is that fear of letting go after the connection. I don’t like it. I don’t like getting close to people and then having to say bye.
One of the hardest things that I ever had to go through was my family disowning me for having been born gay. It reminds me chickens in a chicken yard. Sometimes, if you have a bunch of chickens that are one color and one that isn’t the same color, the different one gets neglected or left to fend for itself. If it makes it, it’s usually a much stronger chicken than the others. It does it’s own thing and continues to not just live, but thrive. I choose to thrive, but I recognize the challenges and obstacles that I faced getting here and I do so knowing that there were others like me that didn’t get the chance to thrive. They either conformed to the ways of others in order to fit in in their environment or they took a chance at being and staying true to themselves and then succumbed to the pain that is being disowned or neglected because of how they were born and they killed themselves. I hate to say that, but it’s a reality. And yes, I still face mental and emotional obstacles because of my family’s decision to disown me. One of those obstacles happens to be the fear of abandonment. My way to avoid being abandoned is to not connect in the first place. I sometimes make it really difficult for people to connect with me; I want proof that they aren’t going to hurt me. I want to know that if I do connect with them, it won’t be wasted time or energy. I want to know that I won’t get hurt. I talk about it a lot and I don’t know that I’m sorry that I talk about it a lot. I’m not sorry. I think that if one person comes across my writing and can relate and if how me facing these obsticals helps inspire them to keep working towards being able to thrive instead of just getting by, then me annoying people with talking about it a lot has been worth it.
Just in writing this, I think I understand better why I can’t just walk up to a complete stranger on most occasions and have a conversation. There are certain times that I’ve been able to have a conversation with people. It’s when they show some sort of vulnerability- they live on the streets, they’re crying, they’re sick, or something that makes them seem vulnerable. Then I can usually talk to them without any problem. It’s sad that it takes them showing some sort of vulnerability in order for that to happen. Funny thing is that sometimes the people at their weakest points in life don’t show any signs of it at all.
I want to conquer this fear of just walking up and talking to strangers, even at the risk of seeming crazy.
This morning I sat down at a Starbucks in Kroger’s near Atlanta in Smyrna, GA. Since sitting down, I have had two complete strangers come up to me to start conversations- an elder black lady asked me if I had eaten yet and then offered me some of her breakfast. Then a local audio visual artist noticed my camera and came over and started a conversation about what I was doing with my camera (I told him about 5YJ) and he invited me to a show he is producing tomorrow. Both of these occurrences were within minutes of each other. Atlanta isn’t the first city this has happened in. It happens regularly and it’s just one of the reasons I like going to local coffee shops (usually it ends up being Starbucks, because it’s easier for people to put money on my Starbucks card than to try and figure out how to get cash to me otherwise.). It gives me the chance to see (and sometimes meet) the locals while still getting photo edits and writing done AND being able to do so while drinking coffee.
Now, I know that some people don’t want to be bothered. I also know that there are some people that are dying to have someone talk to and usually more so to listen to him or her, even if just for a few minutes. I see that a lot in a lot of the people that I’m meeting on 5YJ. I’ve learned that if I can just shut up and listen and give advice when I have it to give and only when I have it to give, I can make a difference in people’s lives. Just with that small gesture of just shutting up and listening for a little bit I am able to show that I do care about humanity and it’s not just something that I say. I’m blessed with the ability and gift of allowing people to feel comfortable enough to open up and share their thoughts and lives with me and I don’t take that for granted. If it helps in any way, I am more than willing to be there for it. When people ask what I give back to the people that I meet and stay with, that’s some of it. I offer an ear to listen and I do so without judging the people who choose to do so. It doesn’t seem like a big deal to me to listen to what people have to say, but the people who do open up and share their thoughts and lives with me appreciate me listening.
So, I am left wondering whom else I could offer that to. Who else needs someone to talk to? Who else needs to be able to share their thoughts and life? How else can I use this gift to help others? Maybe that initial conversation with a stranger; maybe breaking that silence barrier and taking those first steps to get from strangers to friends without fear of being abandoned or judged. I need to get there. Not just because I think it might help others but also because the more I listen, the more I grow. You get as much as you give. I grow when I put myself in a position to help inspire others to grow.
I’m challenging myself to work on it – to step out of my comfort zone and have conversations with strangers, strangers that I meet without having the internet and social networks or Craigslist as a buffer prior to meeting.