In praise of the talkers

No one would ever describe me as outgoing. I’m a fade-into-the-background kind of person, more an interested observer than an eager participant. I no more strike up conversations with strangers than dye my hair purple.

But you know what? I really like people who are. Who do. That is, I’m always grateful when someone else is the outgoing one. I like to be friendly; I’m just not an initiator. I listen. Others talk.

Take yesterday for instance. Just a mundane trip to the auto shop to have the winter tires put on. I sort of dread going there, because they can be slow and the wait is long. Sometimes I bring my laptop, but there’s no Internet connection, so yesterday I brought a couple magazines to read instead.

Entering the waiting room at 9:00 a.m., I found that somebody was already there. That never happens and I had a moment’s annoyance of “Geez, is it going to take even longer?”

The woman eyed my magazines and greeted me with “Oh, I see you’re in for a wait, too.”

And then she proceeded to talk almost nonstop for the next 80 minutes. In that time, I learned more about her and her life than I know about acquaintances I’ve known for years…

  • Her 82-year-old father had just fallen in the basement the previous night and broken his hip. He wanted to stay on the basement floor overnight, and “just get up tomorrow,” but agreed to go to the hospital when her husband insisted. The ambulance took him to our local hospital, but then he was moved to Pittsburgh because he has heart issues and surgery would be risky. Interestingly, her mother and father have been married for 50-some years and have the same birthday. Her sister (2 years older) usually handles care issues for her parents, including taking her dad to doctor’s appointments and such. When she saw her parents’ number on the caller ID at 9:30 the night before, she knew something was wrong.
  • Her husband’s elderly and in-poor-health mother-in-law lives with them. They moved her up from Florida after her husband’s brother (also in Florida) wanted no parts of caring for her (but he’ll for sure be coming for his share of any inheritance). She’s not trained as a caregiver or anything, but she’s doing what she can. Her mother-in-law is quite a shopper and loves to spend money on junk she doesn’t need (they had to put a shed on their property to hold stuff and it’s already full). And she likes to go out to lunch whenever she can, “while she still can.” Sometimes she’s mean/ornery and says things that make my new friend cry, but then she feels bad and wants to buy her something to make up for it.
  • They live in a split-level house — they use the downstairs as their TV/family room, and her MIL has her space in the living room. It really helps to have separate space!
  • She and her husband have a boat and a small camp at Deep Creek, but they didn’t put the boat in this past year because friends have a bigger boat and they just went out on theirs instead.
  • It’s the second marriage for both of them and her husband’s son is the one who introduced them (she doesn’t like to say “stepson” — they’re all family, and they have a 6-year-old granddaughter — his daughter). She loves her husband to pieces. He buys her nice jewelry (revealed during the Kay commercial), but she almost never wears it because she’s afraid of losing it. He bought her the gold watch she had on.
  • Her son has schizophrenia, diagnosed while he was in college but she thinks it started senior year in high school. They at first thought he was on drugs. He had a very rough time for many years, and she campaigned hard for a long time to have his doctors give him shots. They’ve made a world of difference, and he is like a new person now, at age 30. I should tell anyone I know with similar problems how effective the shots are.
  • She ordered a DQ Blizzard pumpkin cake for Thanksgiving — something different. But she guesses they’ll be celebrating in the hospital with her dad.
  • Her husband’s hours at work are being cut back in January — they’re worried the place may even close. They had just met with an insurance salesman who was trying to sell them more insurance and get them to switch her husband’s retirement money around. They haven’t made any decisions yet, but the $3,000 he said they were entitled to (because her husband is a veteran) sounded pretty good.
  • They recently had to get a new furnace because something blew on the old one and they could easily have been poisoned with CO.

I didn’t get many words in edgewise, though I could empathize with her eldercare issues and such. I just listened, nodded a lot, and made encouraging comments now and then. After about an hour, we were joined by an older gentleman, and she quickly drew him into the conversation as well, commenting on his beautiful head of wavy white hair (it really was nice — he has to get it cut every 3 weeks). He shared similar stories of his sister, age 84, who was also a shopper and buyer of useless stuff — a hoarder of sorts.

At that point, my car was finished, and I got up to leave. I wished them both well, we exchanged “Happy Thanksgivings,” and I went on my way. I should have hugged her, but I’m not that kind of person.

I have no idea what her name was, where she lives, or anything that would enable me to find her if I was so inclined. It’s likely our paths will never cross again. Yet she made quite an impact on me — this nice, friendly, super-talkative woman, age 52. I murmured a little prayer for her and thought about chance encounters and whether they really are “chance.” Had she been a different sort of person — loud, opinionated, unpleasant — the whole experience could have been really annoying. But she wasn’t — and it wasn’t.

Instead, it was an interesting glimpse (well, more than a glimpse) into a stranger’s life. And it reminded me of something particularly appropriate on this, the eve of Thanksgiving…

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
~ Plato

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Oh, I know you…

I keep a folder in my Favorites called “Blogs I Might Like” (how’s that for wishy-washy) and visit them regularly — mostly as a lurker (non-commenting or anonymous viewer). I have about 15 in there — not many considering the blog population is in the tens of millions. A couple are the blogs of friends I actually know; most are not.

On one of them today, the blogger was apologizing for not having a “usual” entry because she was terrified about having to go to the doctor’s this afternoon to see about a potential heart problem. She asked for prayers.

I felt bad for her. I commented for the first time ever, offering a few words of comfort (I hope). Many others, also lurkers, offered similar thoughts.

It got me thinking about how blogs make you feel connected to someone. Someone you don’t know and will never know. I’m not sure where this woman lives, but I admire her site and what she puts out there for the world to see (a little green with envy, too). I am sad to hear of her troubles — like I know her, when really, I don’t know much of anything.

I feel that way about all of the “Blogs I Might Like.” These are people who have struck a chord with me for whatever reason — personal, professional, collegial, as a fellow writer, or a fellow lover of cottages or gardens or cooking or the ’burgh.

That’s the beauty of writing. Of transforming thoughts and experiences into words on a page. It takes time to do that. More time than just telling someone. Maybe that’s why I like e-mail better than voicemail or, even, usually, real, live phone calls. Why I’m more comfortable writing than talking. Maybe that’s just a sign of introversion, but I like to think it’s a sign I’m doing what I was meant to do — connecting to people through written words rather than verbal ones.

Sure the Internet has enabled the information superhighway — in turn, it’s enabled my job. But I find it more amazing how it’s enabled people to connect as never before. My “favorite” bloggers are both strangers and friends. How weird — and cool — is that?

Someone to tell it to is one of the
fundamental needs of human beings.
                              ~ Miles Franklin