Talking with strangers.

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I have spent a lot of my time travelling these past few weeks. Since the first of January I travelled to Cambodia via Singapore, back to Australia via Vietnam, then over to Orlando, Florida, which is where I am now. I have spent many hours sitting on a plane, followed by many hours talking with people and being social as I’ve answered questions about my work and the projects my organisation invests in. It has been great and I have met some amazing people along the way. It has also been exhausting and there have been days where I have wanted nothing more than to sit in silence. I know myself well enough to know that I reach a certain point of exhaustion where I just need to stop and sit in silence and eat my emotions (kidding! More like drown my emotions with coffee…kidding…sorta) and knowing that I had a four-day break during my training in Orlando, I decided that I would book myself a little getaway at Daytona beach where I could just sit on the beach and do nothing for a few days. And I am so glad I did because it was exactly what I needed (nicely played, future Lays!)

On arrival, after squealing like a banshee over my room and my view, and sending photos to my friends to annoy them with my view of the beach, I made myself a coffee and sat on my balcony and just stared out into the darkness. I can’t tell you how long I sat there for, but I just sat and stared out at the sea, not thinking, just being. And that was what I did the next day, except I did it at the beach. The only time I verbally spoke to anyone was when I was ordering my food or coffee. Other than that, I said nothing and did nothing other than sit on the beach and occasionally get into the water. It was amazing. After so many days of constantly talking it was nice to sit in silence and just think. Reflect. Pray. Recharge. It was exactly what this weary little traveller needed. And I had planned to do that for the remainder of my trip, but people got in the way.

I love people, I really do. People are awesome and I love meeting people and spending time with them, but sometimes, I get over people and just need to be on my own. Obviously, God had other plans for me during this little break because I found myself stuck with some talkers, namely my Uber drivers. Because for where I was staying, I was a 20 minute walk away from food and about 45 minutes to an hour walk to the shops and other restaurants, so when I wanted to eat, I would make the 20 minute walk to eat and walk back, but when I decided that I wanted to grab a few things from the shopping centre, I opted for a uber. Enter every chatty driver in Florida!

Every ride started the same, I would get in the car, exchange greetings and sit back and look out the window. Then I would get this small prompting of, “talk to them”, which I always ignored because hello, me time and I want to be alone. Again, that quiet voice:

“Talk to them.”
“No!”
“You should really talk to them.”
“Fine!” (God is certainly persistent when He wants to be.)
“Sooo, how’s your day been?”

And it went from there. Begrudgingly I would start a conversation with my uber driver and they would start talking and pretty quickly I found myself engaged in conversation with them. But not just any conversation, GREAT conversation! We would talk life and work and health care and dreams. Let me tell you, this was not just shallow conversation to pass the time because these drivers opened up and shared about their life and their hopes. If I had ignored the prompting to talk then I would have missed one of the drivers sharing how he is only living in Orlando so that he can be close to his kids and study medicine so that he can go into developing countries and help people. He shared in a quiet voice that he was finalising his divorce, before clearing his throat and asking me about my work. Or the other driver that when I asked him about living in Daytona proceeded to tell me about the history of Daytona and how much he enjoyed the place and how he was only doing uber because his business had really slowed down and he needed to get out of the house.

Or the driver that told me how disappointed he was with the US government for the way they treated the veterans and let them get lost in the system when they got back from duty. He told me how he voted for Trump and how he was praying that Trump would come good on his promise to look after the veterans because they deserved to be looked after. Or the driver this morning who shared about her past foster kids and her divorce and how it all made her feel. She shared about her family and the things she was teaching her grandkids and how her heart broke for kids that didn’t have family. There was more they all shared but you get the idea.

No, these were not shallow conversations but connections. Each driver was looking at me in the rear view mirror and looking me in the eye. Every single one of those conversations ended with the uber driver turning in their seat, looking at me and saying, “thanks for some great conversation, I really enjoyed that!” Or as was the case of my veteran supporter who said, “Thank you for that conversation and all that you are doing in the world. Stay there and let me open your door,” to which he came around and held my door open. While I may never see those people again, the connections were still important connections because for that short period of time, we were two people sharing our lives with each other and that matters.

People matter. As much as I want my alone time, I don’t ever want to forget that people matter and I could have so easily missed those connections by focusing only on myself and what works for me. I could have ignored the prompting to talk to them and stayed inside my own head (which is a rather fun place to be, by the way) and missed hearing the stories. I would have missed the opportunity to share hope with someone. I would have missed the chance to let someone speak freely about what they are afraid of and their fears for their kids. All of that could have been missed if I had just stayed focused on myself. I’m not saying that we have to constantly be switched on and talking to everyone all the time. I’m not saying that at all because like I said earlier, I need my time AWAY from people. What I’m saying, and I trust me when I say I am speaking to myself here also, is that we so easily miss connections with others because we get so focused on our phones or our busyness and ourselves. And when we do that, we miss out.

So if you do one thing today, engage with a stranger. Whether it is the guy making your coffee or your uber driver or the security guard at your office, start-up a conversation with them. Ask them how they are and stand there and listen for a few minutes because you just never know which direction the conversation will take. Be blessed, peeps.

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