Friday, November 5, 2010
The Invisible Tattoo
So, I have a curious genetic quirk that crops up at the oddest moments. Without meaning to, and quite by accident, complete strangers engage me in soul-sharing conversations that bring forth great discovery, joy, and sometimes, just downright disturbing information.
Since before I can remember, people just tell me their stuff. Now, we all have people who we want to tell us their stuff, like husbands, children (hopefully), and friends, but I am talking about complete strangers coming up to me and unloading their deepest secrets in under 10 minutes. I think I have a invisible tattoo on my forehead that says, "Hey, I'm listening." I'm not sure when I first realized what was going on, but uninvited visitors find me everyday to tell me their stuff.
However, this odd gravity that brings strangers to my person, door, and phone (not kidding) isn't always a bad thing. Today, for instance, I was in our local health food store, when a curious little woman approached me and struck up a conversation about beets. I was in the process of wrestling a large cabbage into a bag when she begin telling me about how she ate beets in her native Romania before she emigrated to the U.S. She stood about two heads shorter than my almost six feet, and she wore a pumpkin colored scarf. She had a missing front tooth, and spoke in a quiet voice which made me stoop to hear her. She told me that her parents sent her to the States to "become a rich, fat American", and she walked to all the grocery stores near her home each day to check out the produce and compare prices. She then took me on a guided tour of a huge bin of pomegranates (whose price was raised from .99 each to 1.49 just this morning) and she even placed a couple in my cart for me to enjoy.
Now you may be thinking that her deluge of friendship was just because she was older.
Yesterday, I was engaged in conversation by a 30-something waiter (I wasn't dining in the restaurant, just picking up take-out) who asked me if I was a track coach. Seriously? I was earing 3 1/2 inch, knee high, black laced boots, a skirt and a cashmere wrap. Did I look like I had just come from the gym? Besides, I only run when people are actually chasing me. My body type says more "voracious reader" than "fitness buff"--not that the two need be mutually exclusive, but they just are in my case-- He then told me about how he works nights as a waiter so he can go to school to become a nurse. He even followed me out the door and to my car (don't be worried, I was wearing those big boots and can run really fast since I'm a track coach) telling me about his childhood in Mexico.
And the most disturbing: Once at the gym, just as I was drying my hair in the locker room, a fellow gym member, whom I had never seen with the usual 5 a.m. crowd, shared with me about how she'd got an abortion the night before. Not kidding. My heart broke for her. She needed someone to talk to, and naturally, she found me to share it with. I was glad to help her carry her burden even if it was in the locker room surrounded by half dressed women getting ready for work. I never saw her again. But I still think of her and send love her way whenever she crosses my mind.
I could go on and on, stories of lost limbs, insurance claims, custody battles, aging parents, terminal illness, wayward children, physical abuse, indigestion, pregnancy, mental disorders, embezzlement, anger issues, unemployment, homelessness, death, and just life. All these tales told by strangers, who land briefly in my presence, and whom I never see again.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, I find myself thinking about the story I've heard that day and I wonder if I was a Priest in another life. What is it about sharing personal information with a stranger that eases a burden? I can honestly say, (to the best of my recollection) I don't ever remember telling a stranger much of anything. In fact, because of my invisible tattoo, I strive to make every interaction with a stranger one of love and joy, and if that's just not possible, then at least one of politeness.
In spite of all these stories, I somehow never feel burdened. And, this may seem not very introspective, but I've never wondered why all these people tell me their stuff. Some things just are. Like parking garages--seriously, a mystery, how can you go up, but come down and out? And Netflix movie streaming--a complete conundrum--a movie on my computer that is streamed to my t.v. via a little box with a flashing light? Some things defy explanation.
Hey, I'm listening.