Reminiscing with one of my mother’s photo albums, I encountered a snapshot of a long-deceased neighbor (a dear, sweet man) who is still summed up by the phrase “He never met a stranger.”
I’m sure all of you know someone like that (or ARE someone like that): the one-person welcoming committee who is drawn like a moth to the flame and wants every casual acquaintance to feel like they’re loved, appreciated and the survivor of an interrogation by Jack Bauer on “24.”
Alas, thanks to social distancing, political minefields (“No, I’m not through with the sports section and you look like one of those tree-huggers who doesn’t even want trees turned into paper in the first place, so you’ll get my Semi-Weekly Clarion when you pry it from my cold, lifeless fingers, you hypocrite!”) and ubiquitous handheld devices, such people are a DYING BREED.
Ironically, most of the people they gladhanded in their lifetime won’t even come to the funeral. (“Well, okay, if you think mourners will bring pigs-in-a-blanket to the funeral home, I might go honor the chatty guy from the interstate rest stop.”)
Many gregarious people work with the hope that they just might be the one bright spot in a person’s otherwise dreary day. (“That lady in the waiting room made me feel special. So, I think I’m WORTH a DOUBLE latte before I hurl myself from the 35th-floor balcony!”)
Sometimes “people persons” are simply striving for the satisfaction of learning something new. (“I’m glad I met you! I’ve learned three things today: Your aunt worked for Howard Hughes. Your daughter met Justin Bieber. And you’re going to beat the $#%%5E out of the next &%5E%$ who doesn’t have sense enough to mind his own %$#@ business!”)
If only the Titanic had as many ICEBREAKERS as an extrovert! A good conversationalist comes armed with “Think it will rain?,” “I couldn’t help but notice…” and “I never was much of a history student, but oh, the history I could tell you about my gastrointestinal system!”
As Sigmund Freud might have observed, “Sometimes a line at the DMV is just a line at the DMV. You don’t need Mickey Rooney shouting, ‘Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!’”
Although I work in a retail environment and have been teaching an adult Bible class for 35 years, when it comes to one-on-one encounters, I remain a stay-under-the-radar, speak-when-spoken-to introvert. I can be counted on for eye contact, a smile, “good morning” and “thank you”; but I am capable of being out in public WITHOUT performing a Vulcan mind meld! (Seriously, if you have the entire Klingon alphabet tattooed to your inner thigh, let that be YOUR little secret.)
Okay, for the sake of communications and civility, we need at least a FEW benign stalkers out there. But they must prove their worthiness.
“Uncle Burt, are you SURE you’ve never met a stranger? What about that guy in the van, wearing a trench coat and handing out candy?”
“Him? Oh, he’s not a stranger ANYMORE! I learned that his electronic tracking anklet was made at the factory that sits on the site where my momma worked as a soda jerk after school! It’s a small world after all! Speaking of which, I forgot to ask him how his GI tract handled the Pirates of the Caribbean ride on his 1989 vacation…”