“Excuse me, ma’am?”
I’d spotted the middle-aged woman lurking in the grocery store parking lot through my windshield. I had a feeling she was going to approach us to ask for money. Mom wasn’t feeling great and I was there to help her get groceries as quickly as possible so she could go home and lie down.
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred, this time being the exception, when I’m approached in a parking lot, someone either asks me for money or something else.
One woman approached me on more than one occasion in the same parking lot with the same story about needing money because her car broke down and she needed to get to Lincoln (a city about sixty miles away).
Another time, I was approached by a member of the Communist USA party to recruit me. If other people can recruit in parking lots, why not communists?
One guy, who was so drunk he could hardly stand, got so mad when I refused his request for money that he lifted his hiking-booted foot to kick my car. Thankfully, he stumbled backward before he could pull it off.
So, a person can get a little jaded. Even a Christian.
Back to the middle-aged woman in the parking lot. Just after she stopped us, a shopping cart rolled across the parking lot behind me and was headed for my car, so I hurried to control it.
When I turned back around, the woman touched my mom’s elbow, said something to her, and pulled away.
After the woman got into her car, I asked Mom what had happened.
“She just wanted to tell me I looked nice today.”
I hadn’t seen that coming. But it was a good reminder of how easy it is to make a difference with a small gesture, and that not everybody is out for him or herself.
MercyMe's "Dear Younger Me" came on the radio late one night this week while I was driving and it made me think. It's a song about someone who wonders what he'd say if he had a chance to talk to a younger version himself.
It made me wonder the same thing. Several things came to mind.
I'd tell myself to stop waiting. Stop waiting for the girl. Stop waiting for the right job. Stop waiting for people to call. Then I'd tell my younger self to act instead, and accept what's in front of me.
I'd also tell myself that time moves quickly, so you have to step into each moment and be fully present because it seems like one minute, you are 22 years old and the next, you are 52. The music you are listening to will be on the classics station, the movies you love will be remade, and some of your friends will move on.
Finally, I'd tell myself to never take good health for granted because there's coming a time when I won't always have it. I guess I'd also tell myself not to play in that church softball game on July 15, 1997, because you'll get injured and you'll spend the rest of your life working around that injury.
How about you? If you had a chance to talk to a younger version of yourself, what would you say?
I set the bottle of water on the front desk at the gym.
“That’ll be $2.00, Lee.”
I’d never had a conversation with the woman behind the counter, so I was surprised when she used my name. But she’d just scanned my membership card five minutes prior, so I figured that’s how she knew it.
“How’d you know my name?”
“You’re in here pretty often.”
“Not for a while. I’ve been helping to take care of my mom on the other side of town.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. What’s wrong with her?”
She went on to ask how old my mom was doing, and how long the doctors thought she’d be down—all of which are questions that went above and beyond simple pleasantries. Then she wished her a speedy recovery.
It gave me a temporary pep in my step when I climbed onto the treadmill.
As an introvert, I’m skeptical of small talk with strangers, especially in a setting like this. Small talk doesn’t come easy for me and I’m always thinking the business is working the engage-in-enough-small-talk-and-the-customer-will-believe-we-care angle, rather than actually caring.
But not this time.
This time, I put myself out there a little bit—offering a little personal information, and it was worth it.
I’m also pretty skeptical of small talk in social situations.
If a real estate agent approaches me at a party and strikes up a conversation, I’m always waiting for him or her to try to close the deal and offer me his or her card.
I attended a party once where a woman was wearing a button that said something like, “I lost 78 pounds. Ask me how.” I’d sooner try to swim the English Channel than ask such a question, knowing I’d just open the door to listen to a five-minute spiel about one program or another that she would be sure to receive kickback for if I signed up. Sure enough, somebody else took the bait and I tuned out when the spiel began.
I should say I also have a crunchy feeling about being a regular. On one hand, I like the comforting feeling of familiarity. On the other hand, I often wonder what the other person is thinking.
I hit a coffee shop drive-thru by my house once in a while. More times than not, I get the same barista who, while she isn’t big on small talk, knows I don’t want a straw or a lid on my skinny white mocha blender (Frappuccino, for those of you who prefer Starbucks). So she hands my coffee out the window without the straw or lid, no questions asked.
The first time she did that, I was amazed that she remembered me. I know, I know. Baristas are supposed to remember regulars. But it’s surprising how much being remembered in such a small way means so much. Maybe it’s because I’m accustomed to feeling invisible. I’m not complaining about that. I prefer to remain in the shadows.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to make genuine connections. It just means I’m a bit guarded as I venture out. Part of that is my personality. Part of that is my experience. And part of that is my weight. But none of these things stops me from living. And as I do, I’m often pleasantly surprised by others who also want to connect in small ways.
Do you have one of those friends who trades book recommendations with you? I usually meet with a friend for lunch once a week and invariably, our discussions end up in text messages afterward.
This past week, we talked about Francis Schaeffer's work, so my buddy texted me several book recommendations by Schaeffer:
He recommended that I start with “True Spirituality,” saying it’s Schaeffer’s foundational book. I’m planning to do just that.
Early in my Christian life, I read a couple of Schaeffer’s books: A Christian Manifesto, and Art and the Bible. But I really do need to read more from him, especially all these years later, so I was glad for the prompting. Truth Spirituality just moved to the top of my TBR pile.
I just started reading Packing Light: Thoughts on Living with Less Baggage by Allison Fallon. It’s too early to know if I’ll recommend it to my buddy. But I have to say, I love the notion of reading books in community, knowing that whatever we glean, we’ll be able to discuss them with each other.
Jessica Meuse played a show at the Omaha Summer Arts Festival a couple of weeks ago. She closed with her song called “Done.” I shot this video, which will show you why I’m a writer and not a videographer.
But it’ll also show you something else.
Partway through the performance, Meuse’s band gets lost in the music. Her drummer drops his head and just goes with the flow. A minute or so later, her keyboard player begins to pound the keys like he’s trying to extract every ounce of music out of them. Then her guitar player takes the lead and massages the song, which leads beautifully back into Meuse’s closing vocals.
It’s music the way it’s supposed to be played—passionately and patiently.