Friday, June 10, 2005

Listening to Strangers

Last night an old friend had a CD release party in town here. I ended up deciding to go, and I had a blast. Apparently there were a few critics there and they all loved him. (Or so said the manager.) But anyway, on to the story.

After the concert, I went outside to have a cigarette. (I quit again this morning by the way.) At any rate, I sat down outside on the curb and this girl asked me if I had ever been to the record store next door. I said no, and we got to talking. She was waiting for friends, and we ended up being able to talk for about thirty minutes. She asked me what I do and I told her that I was going to be a college missionary. Of course, that started the whole, "Are you super religious?" discussion.

Well, we talked for about thirty minutes about some very real issues. She told me all sorts of things about her as a kid, and I asked her how she felt those things had made her grow into the person she is today. She asked me a bunch of questions about Christianity, and I asked her a bunch of questions about her particular brand of agnosticism and we both had a really great discussion. In the end, we were discussing the garden of Eden, and her friends showed up and she had to take off for the concert she was waiting for. I said goodbye and I'll never see her again.

Then I went inside and had a beer with these two girls I had met at the concert and the one girl wanted a cigarette, so we went outside. Once we got out there I said, "So Jackie, what are you about?" and we got into a long discussion on her rich mother who recently disowned her and about my religion. (She also asked what I did for a living which started that discussion.) She really opened up a lot about some of the pain she was experiencing because of the trouble with her mom, and the pain she had to deal with because her father had cheated on her mother and they were divorced. It was really something, and I was really starting to feel for her. I saw this person who was a perfect stranger ten minutes ago blossom into a real life and blood human being. It was wierd.

Then I went inside and almost immediately, struck up a long discussion with my friend's sister Molly, who I haven't had an opportunity to talk to in a very long time. I don't know how we even got into it, but we had a long talk about insecurities and the things that make us feel stupid or scared. She and I both started sorting through some pretty personal issues that we are wrestling with. And then turned around and had a good time with everyone else.

I don't know what it was about last night but I just found myself wandering from deep discussion to deep discussion. And it isn't that I was trying to do it on purpose, God just had me there, at that bar, for a very good reason.

Well, I got home, and I started thinking about it this morning. I would say I had pretty successful discussions with these three women, and it's because I was asking them questions about themselves. Two of the women were perfect strangers, and one I haven't talked to in years. But each time I asked a question like "What are you about?" of "Does that keep you up at night?" the discussion just ran. I found that people love to talk about themselves, and we shouldn't be as afraid of discussing personal issues as we usually are. It's probably very, very healthy to dig up real personal stuff and share it with a perfect stranger who'll never ever see you again. And I'm convinced now that all you have to do is ask someone "What are you wrestling with right now?" and they'll start talking. Of course, you can't just pop in and say that, but if you get to know someone a little bit, you can really have some wonderful discussions by caring about what people say in response to real questions.

So yeah, it was an interesting night last night. I would encourage you, next time you are out somewhere, ask the stranger next to you a question like, "So, what are you about? What gets you going?" And watch the conversation go. Try it, it's fun.
Plus it avoids the weather talk. I hate talking about the weather.

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