“Sometimes you run into someone, regardless of age or sex, whom you know absolutely to be an independently operating part of the Whole that goes on all the time inside yourself, and the eye-motes go click and you hear the tribal tones of voice resonate, and there it is – you recognize them.” — Anne Lamott
“So when we meet as strangers, when even friends look like strangers, it is good to remember that we need each other greatly you and I, more than much of the time we dare to imagine, more than more of the time we dare to admit. Island calls to island across the silence, and once, in trust, the real words come, a bridge is built and love is done –not sentimental, emotional love, but love that is pontifex, bridge-builder. Love that speak the holy and healing word which is: God be with you, stranger who are no stranger. I wish you well. The islands become an archipelago, a continent, become a kingdom whose name is the Kingdom of God.” — Buechner
For my own sanity and well-being, I try not to base too much of my life philosophy on Fight Club. However, the idea of single-serving friends is something that I appreciate.
Probably the biggest difference between the Sunny of Mother Superior Era and Sunny Version 2.0 is that now I like people. Love ‘em, even. As a writer, people are good sources of quirks that aren’t from my own head. As a slightly better-adjusted human being, people are just fascinating for their own sake. I love meeting new people, which is something I learned about myself during the model scouting period. I’ve always liked opening people up, finding what makes them tick, finding what passions drive them. Sometime the people that are in our lives every day get comfortingly boring, and we forget to ask new questions, discover new things. With new people, it’s much easier and natural to ask about who they are. And it’s great how new people can completely surprise you by being exactly what you need at exactly that moment. I think the shock value of a complete stranger getting you can do wonders. Sometimes you run into someone who is so much you that it’s wonderful (or awful). Sometimes you run into someone who teaches you something you’ll remember for the rest of your life.
Here are a few of my favorite single-serving friends:
- Garage Sale Kindred. During a family garage sale, my brother and I had an encounter with one of those people who I know God throws in my path just to get my attention. We were almost ready to close down the garage sale for the day when this blue car slid to a stop just too far of our driveway. Slamming the unenthused car into reverse, this old lady pulled into our driveway and got out to inspect my brother’s drums. Immediately, we both got the sense that she didn’t think she was old – you could just tell that about her. Her hair was white and she wore wide-rimmed glasses, but she carried herself like she was my age. She wore this beautiful sari that fluttered in the wind like a flag. The woman – I don’t even think we got her name – had attitude, spunk. It would be no stretch to say that she was interested in whatever she came across that she didn’t know about, I think. It was like she knew a secret that only she and life shared. Christian and I both agreed after she left that she was awesome. All the time we talked to her about her Sunday school kids, her yellow house down on the corner, my brother’s drums, and our own lives, she talked to us like we were her equals. That really was a great unspoken compliment.
- Smiley Asian Guy. Do you ever notice that simple, seemingly coincidental run-ins can change your outlook on a day? One morning at college, I was stressing over the problematic people in my life. I was walking down the sidewalk when I crossed paths with a little man who was obviously a visitor to campus. As I walked by him, he greeted me with a serene grin and asked, “Are you enjoying this morning?” It was just funny somehow, and it surprised me because it wasn’t the monotonous, “Hi, how are you?” I perked up immediately.
- Meijer Lady. During grocery shopping on a busy day, I found myself stuck in a funnel where this silly girl with her boyfriend was clogging the aisle as she tried for 3 minutes to decide which kind of ketchup she wanted. A lady in a scooter and I were the next up for crossing paths if the girl moved, and we made eye contact and exchanged smirks. Finally the exasperated boyfriend shoved his cart to the side enough for the scooter lady to get by. As she went by me she said with an eye roll, “Your word for the day is, OBTUSE.” I started laughing but tried to cover it as the boyfriend also rolled his eyes. Great.
So, yeah, I enjoy discovering fresh people. But what about people who are in my life daily and who have been in my life forever? Obviously we can always seek to know people better, and we shouldn’t forget to continually try. This leads to another favorite quote:
“We spend our lives guessing at what’s going on inside everybody else, and when we happen to get lucky and guess right, we think we ‘understand.’ Such nonsense. Even a monkey at a computer will type a word every now and then.” – Orson Scott Card
But the thing about people you know well – in many ways, it’s harder to be surprised by them. You know each other’s histories. You know their favorite foods and movies. You know what makes them angry. You know so much about them already that you can get lazy about pushing for more. However, even old, old, old friends can surprise you and be exactly what you need at exactly that moment. I’ve found that the trick is to fake myself out, to be just as interested while conversing with a friend as I would be with a new, single-serving friend. You see things more freshly that way, and sometimes your eye-motes go click. Sometimes you re-meet someone you’ve known for years and they’re a blessing you never saw coming.
A few times old friends/family/acquaintances have really mattered to me:
- Shaaaaaaane! The summer between high school and college, I was a mess, to say the least. One of my cousin Randy’s friends, Shane, happened to be up for the Fourth of July at my aunt and uncle’s cottage on the lake. Everyone pretty much acted like normal, asking me the usual questions about my upcoming departure for college, but I remember sitting on the beach with Shane and him asking me similar questions. For whatever reason (I’ve convinced myself it had nothing to do with the fact that I was at last 18), Shane treated me like he really cared, like this next step in my life mattered. I’m not sure we’d ever really talked before, but for some reason this was completely refreshing to me and meant a lot, maybe simply because he was a new person and I needed so very badly to be reminded that I needed new.
- Rachel K. A great thing about people who know you well is that sometimes they know exactly which of their own experiences you can learn from vicariously, even if you never saw it coming. When I was having problems with a particular mutual friend, Rachel was a surprising source of comfort as she explained a similar situation with another mutual friend (yes, I’m being vague). It was one of the first times we connected about things more serious than books and movies, and her response to her situation made me realize I had a better way to handle my whole thing. Her advice really helped, and I’d never seen it coming.
- Second-Favorite Hunter. I think I’ve told this story before. Chris H. is really probably my favorite hunter (don’t tell!) because I like a person who will jab at me playfully and know I won’t be offended. Chris for years would say, “What is that smell?” whenever I would enter a room. Anyway, during one fateful Haymarsh Sporting Clays Pig Roast, I broke my hand. Everyone asked what I’d done and looked sorry for me and all that. My family of course knew I was a klutz and so helped me get a plateful of pig and other assorted potluck food. BUT, much to my surprise, Chris was the one who brought me a piece of the dessert his wife had made. I didn’t ask for it, he didn’t ask first, he just brought it over. It was oddly kind and memorable, and it reaffirmed my love for my weird little hunter family of adopted-uncle-types.
Now here’s the flipside. What happens when I am that person who has the opportunity to matter in someone else’s life? How can I contribute to the people in my life – whether strangers, single-serving friends, people I’ve known forever, whatever?
For starters, I really do try to smile more (stop laughing, people who know me! I do!). I learned from that man above that this simple thing can matter to people. And I can be more cordial and kind in general to random people whenever our paths cross.
Strangers actually are easiest for me to be charitable towards. It’s the people I know well, the people who I’ve spent perhaps too much time with, the people whose flaws/strengths I know inside and out that I have a hard time with. (Apologies all ‘round.) But obviously these are the people I’ve invested in, the people who are most part of ME, and I should work to be…better. I should have the decency to dig deeper and not assume I know everything about them. I should be more forgiving of faults. I should seek to help them open up and grow. I should be encouraging. I should…I should…I should.
Sometimes I even do. I really do try to give more than I take. I try to be whatever a person needs from me. It’s that 1 Corinthians, “I have become all things to all people” idea. The problem is that I somehow usually end up draining myself – yes, I realize how self-righteous that sounds. Often I will invest so much in trying to help someone that I lose myself and feel like that person is sucking me dry. So, yeah, a happy medium would be good. But, honestly, I always know God is trying to teach me something as I try to help whoever He’s put in front of me. Patience. Compassion. Abandonment of self. Etc. Etc. Even in mattering to other people, we end up getting a lesson ourselves, I think.
There are obvious things I need to work on. I’m not good with criers. Hypothetically, I will pat a crying person’s head if I don’t know what else to do. And I’m not good with not poking when I see something is wrong – I want to fix everything and often don’t have the patience to go at someone else’s pace. I’m not good at letting down my defensive shield if it means I might get hurt, if it means I might have to be so honest that I could lose that friend. And, again hypothetically, when a person requires more vulnerability from me than I’m prepared for, I’m not good at letting go of all my little mechanisms for controlling the situation, and instead I will segue with something like, “Say, did you hear about that killing spree?” …Hypothetically.
So, yeah. People sometimes surprise you and can change you. And you can sometimes surprise people. I think the key thing – whether with strangers or best friends – is to treat each meeting as an opportunity to know someone better. You just never know who might turn out to really, really matter.