At the grocery checkout line late Sunday night, the woman in front of me didn't seem to want to walk away from the clerk who was checking her out. Their transaction was finished, but she said, "It really meant a lot to me to talk to you." I didn't know if I should perhaps choose another line and give them more time together to perhaps continue what sounded like a deep conversation. I've been in that position.
She began talking to me, however -- just commenting on this and that:
- "Did you find those blackberries that are especially sweet? You should buy those. I hope you are, because the produce clerk let me sample them and... wow." ("I think I got them. Thanks.")
- "I've bought a pizza for my neighbors whose mother died. Do you think that's appropriate?" ("Sure, everybody appreciates food," I said.)
- You sure are buying a lot of chicken. Are you having a party?" ("Well I'm having a picnic on the weekend," I said. To which she replied, "Where?" Thinking that she might be about to suggest that she join us, I got nervous and was more vague about my plans than I started out to be... "Maybe Rock Creek, not sure!")
This woman was unusually chatty. Even for me. And that's saying something. I've never met a stranger, and I talk to people everywhere.
What I noticed as she lingered a long time and chatted with me and store clerk, originally from Ethiopia (a fact she already knew and I learned), was that she had a rolling cart, and a really warm demeanor, and wasn't scary in any way.
But I flip-flopped between thinking, "Well she just wanted to get out and see some human beings, and this very long conversation is a gift I can offer..." and "This is abnormally long for a stranger conversation, and I wonder if she's going to ask me to be her power-of-attorney or something. I'm getting nervous."
She eventually wandered on. And I have thought of her several times and of the times when I myself have simply needed to make human contact, to get out of the bubble of my home or my head or my thoughts... and how quickly and easily that happens when we have even the most mundane exchanges with another person.
I wish I didn't consider it a cost at all... but It's a small price to pay to linger longer than we want to when someone else wants or needs to linger. I want to be, more and more, someone who will do that.