You know those people who are always in your life, but you never try to get to know? People who you see almost every day – who you wave to – but with whom you never have a verbal exchange beyond,
“How are you?”
“Good. How are you.”
“Great. Have a great day!”
Many people find it difficult to embrace the vulnerability one feels when one initiates any sort of more intimate discussion with a stranger. I feel fortunate in knowing that I am – and always have been – quite the extrovert and quite open to putting myself into vulnerable situations in order to achieve a greater purpose. I guess this is why I loved being a waitress and barista so much; I met strangers every day and often, those strangers became amazing friends. I guess it always felt exhilarating – enjoyable – exciting. Like opening up a box to see what’s inside. Sometimes the wrapping would be so shiny, but the box would be empty. And sometimes the wrapping would be worn through but the box would contain untold treasures.
I started getting to know one of our parking lot attendants last fall. His name is Dharma. He is one of the sweetest men EVER. He is an older gentleman from India, and always has the kindest smile on his face. I love the way he says “Hel-lo!” and beams when I drive up to leave in the evening. He is this way with everyone. He’s just that kind of guy.
Last Christmas, I left him a jar of sprouted almond butter from Fat Uncle Farms as a gift. He was out for the holiday, but when he came back a few weeks later he flagged me down and gave me the best gift back: one of his huge, heartwarming smiles and a “thank you so much!”
I ran into Dharma, today, walking uphill as I was walking downhill, returning to the office from lunch. He smiled and we hugged and said our “hello’s.”
Then he started asking about how my lunch was, and if I was just beginning a walk.
“My lunch was so fast! I was studying at the cafe up the street the whole time,” I answered.
“Oh,” he thought for a moment. “I always take a 1-hour walk at lunch time. Every day. I walk from the parking lot up to Alvarado and back. In 1-hour! I’m very proud of that time,” he said with – you guessed it – a huge and very proud smile.
That time is a great time indeed for that distance. To walk that in one hour is a good clip for anyone, but especially good for a man his age.
“Do you ever walk at lunch?” He asked.
“I study, mostly. And I call my mother.”
“That’s good. It’s good to talk to your mother.” I saw what looked like a faint memory flicker in his eyes. Was he thinking of his daughter? Was he thinking of his mother?
I continued, “but I DO walk in the mornings and sometimes after work.”
He looked confused. “Do you have a treadmill?”
“No, I walk around my neighborhood. I like the fresh air and the nature.”
Again he smiled and raised his hands in the air like, “Of COURSE!”
We said our pleasant goodbyes and went our own ways – he towards MacArthur Park, and I towards noisy, downtown construction.
As I walked, I was overcome with memories of how I used to invite myself over to neighbors houses to talk with them when I was younger. (I was always sticking my nose in other people’s business!) In particular, there was one older woman (she had two miniature poodles that loved to play) who lived alone and up the street from me. I would stop at her house many an afternoon to say hi to her and the dogs. Eventually, she started to invite me inside for cookies and we would sit and talk. I don’t remember what we even talked about, but I remember feeling safe and needed. I would lie on her floor and she would sit in her armchair and just talk or ask me questions about school. On May Day I would leave baskets I made in art class at her front door and run away giggling.
I remembered when I first moved to L.A. I had a neighbor upstairs who lived alone. She asked me to call her Granny. Granny was a bit of a hoarder, but would invite me to talk with her at her door way.
“I’m so sorry you cannot come in…the house is a mess,” she would always apologize with her geographically indistinguishable yet thick accent. I didn’t mind standing there, outside of her apartment. Granny was one of those older women that you just knew was a firecracker in her youth…pushing boundaries…using bawdy language…playing poker…glam with an edge. She told great stories that would leave me standing in the hallway at her door for up to an hour without a second thought.
When I moved away from that neighborhood, I would try to stop by her place at least once over Christmas to give her a card and a little something fun like a frame or a package of candies. And then…I just stopped going. Time caught up with me. I kept thinking about her but would get caught up in needing to be somewhere or needing to do something.
I wonder if she is still at that apartment? I wonder if she would remember me if I stopped by after three years of not stopping by?
I think the point of me writing this is to communicate the importance of being a good neighbor – of watching out for those you see often – and of opening your heart to the potential beauty and kindness of strangers.
I am not entirely sure, looking back, who approached whom in the above-mentioned relationships. I have this feeling that they all approached me – that they all opened their hearts to me – and that I merely reciprocated their love. Or maybe I just made it easy for them to express joy/love/interest by being open.
Part of this awareness of and interaction with neighbors reinforces community…a sense of belonging…a sense of being seen and acknowledged.
You see them, and they, in turn, see you.
You hug them, and they, in turn, hug you.
You know them, and they, in turn, know you.
It is a wonderful feeling to reach out and show care to those you encounter often. When I see Dharma, I feel joy. When I talked with Granny, I felt joy. When I left baskets on that lady’s doorstep on May Day, I felt unbridled joy. I wanted to reciprocate that joy, and so I found ways to do so.
Today, I spent maybe five minutes talking with Dharma and getting to know him, and have since felt an increased sense of peace. This in turn has made work easier…lighter. Tasks are carried out with more fluidity.
Every so often my heart sings out:
“Someone wanted to know if I take walks!”
“Someone wanted to give me a hug today!”
For some reason, things like this mean so much to me…so they HAVE to mean just as much to others, right?
On a separate-but-related note… a video that talks about vulnerability, letting go, asking, and connection.