Do we stop and really listen to the people we, casually meet? I know I haven’t always done that.
For me, the exchanging of pleasantries, and making of small talk is more a force of habit, than a real attempt at meaningful conversation. I guess it is marginally politer than ignoring people, and truth be told, there isn’t always time or opportunity for anything more.
As a writer, no, no, not a published one, but a writer none the less, I lean towards solitary pursuits. Chief among these, when I’m not safely ensconced behind my writing desk or contemplating the universe, is an activity commonly referred to as people watching. I have come to realize that It is a sort of buffer or comfort zone that I cling desperately to, like a newborn baby to its mother’s breast.
I know I need to, actively, participate in life, a whole heck of a lot, more than I do, and it is a situation I have been trying, albeit pitifully, to rectify.
They call it a comfort zone for a reason though, so it does take a concerted effort, for me. to ,truly, put myself out there in the line of fire. When I do though, it can, sometimes, be a real eye opener!
I was talking, I mean, really talking, to an elderly man that cleans the floors at the local shopping center the other day.
Edward, (not his actual name), is a very genial fellow, with twinkly eyes and short-cropped, snowy-white hair. He always has a friendly smile and a “Howdy!” for anyone and everyone who crosses his line of sight.
Several times now, Edward and I have shared a word, or two, in passing. Small talk about the weather, or the plight of our local hockey team, you know the kind of thing. Never a real, honest to goodness, conversation mind you, but at least an attempt at one.
On this particular day, I was sipping my favorite, caffeinated concoction, flipping aimlessly through the newspaper, and more or less killing time. Edward flashed me his usual fifty megawatt smile, and tossed me a wave, as he relined a nearby trash bin.
“I see here The Vancouver Canucks have hired a new head coach.” Was my brilliant ice breaker.
“They’ve got more sense than money.” He replied, “Nothing wrong with the old one, fars I’m concerned.”
I shrugged, noncommittally, and watched him as he tossed the tied up garbage bag into his cart.
As he started to wheel it away. For the first time, I noticed the deeply gouged lines and furrows on his weathered brow, the slight limp, and just a hint of a grimace as his right foot contacted the concrete floor.
“Do you ever get a coffee break?” I asked.
“I don’t usually bother with ’em”
“When is your next one?” I inquired.
He unclipped the pager from his overall pocket and squinted at it.
“As a matter a fact, any time now, ” He threw me an amused glance. “but whydyer ask?”
I smiled, “Thought you looked a little thirsty.”
I bought him a coffee and we sat down to talk. We introduced ourselves, and for the next fifteen minutes we had a real conversation.
Edward told me about the old days and how things had changed in the neighborhood; He talked, lovingly, about his dearly departed wife, she was a real looker, he says, a gifted seamstress and a stay-at-home Mom.
The three bright intelligent lads that he put through college, are all off doing their own thing. A huge smile lights his weathered old face when he tells me how they all, make time to, get together on holidays and special occasions.
It is amazing how easy it can be to take things for granted, like the people that we see in our day to day lives, but never truly get to know.
As my, maternal, grandfather used to say,
” You must, always, take the time to, really, listen to people, and do so without interruption. Do so, even if you disagree with what is being said. Let them finish the thought.
That is great advice. Everyone has at least one story to tell, and even the humblest of men have lessons they can teach us all.
Do we really stop and listen?