the stranger

Updated: May 12

"My inner dialogue becomes rapid. Maybe she is just really friendly. My mind quickly turns to wondering if she is okay. Why would a stranger ask me to have coffee? Maybe she needs some company. Maybe it has been a difficult Christmas season."

“You look like you did pretty good too,” I say. She smiles and gazes with satisfaction at her nearly full shopping cart loaded with discounted goods. We have both just finished winding our way through a maze of 70% off Christmas stuff, and are waiting it out in the long line to pay.

“There’s still one of the big baskets over on the shelf by the door,” she says, motioning towards the front of the store.

“I think I’ve done enough damage,” I say, eying my own cart. We laugh.

“Hey, would you like to go for coffee with me?” she says. I pause. Not a long pause, but her question catches me off guard.

“Now?” I ask. “If you want to,” she says.

I touch the elbow of her jacket and smile. “Sure, I have time and I think here’s a place nearby.” She smiles too.

My inner dialogue becomes rapid. Maybe she is just really friendly. My mind quickly turns to wondering if she is okay. Why would a stranger ask me to have coffee? Maybe she needs some company. Maybe it has been a difficult Christmas season.

We meet just down the street and she buys the coffee with a tiny heart shaped Starbucks card, insisting to treat since she asked me. I save some seats and the conversation is easy, for stranger. Work, family, Christmas. She lost her mom to cancer in May.

“Why did you invite me,” I say.

“You looked like a nice person,” she says.

“Do you ask many strangers to coffee?” She laughs shyly. “No, you’re the first one.”

We part saying it has been nice to meet one another. I sit in my car as a realization washes over me. Maybe she asked because the person who needed company was me. Maybe my face showed the strain of the holidays, or the stresses of this year. Maybe I showed the sadness that is inside me, even for a second, and she saw it.

It could be the oddest thing that has happened in a while, or one of the most pure and kind things that has ever happened.

I have lovely friends and a great family, but in between the bustle and genuinely good times with the people I love and care about, there has been a lot of quiet, accentuated by feelings of more losses than I can easily process. The past six months have brought more tears than I knew I could be the source of.

I am not a sad person, but I have accepted that loss and pain create sadness, and to not feel them and to not process them, is a disservice to ourselves. We accept great happiness and joy and don’t question their presence in our story, or our deservedness of them. To truly live is to experience both, even though it is hard. I supposed I could put a rock on my sadness and try to sink it to the bottom of an ocean, or pave a parking lot over it, but then it will just be the drown or disposed soul of sadness haunting me. I choose to live it and get through it, so it will really be gone.

Most days there are things I observe that make me feel we need to be kinder to one another. We need one another. Being a part of a community is important. I think we need to be more open, accepting and understanding, and less judgmental. I had never been asked to go for coffee with a stranger, until yesterday. I said yes, even though it was not comfortable. I went even though didn’t realize in that moment the person who needed a little bit more of those things was me.

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