Familiar Strangers

There must be something familiar in people, in general; a commonality. There must be a thread that runs through humanity that gives us reminders of other people we know, people we love or hate or tolerate. We are all pridefully unique, yes. But a vein of similarity throbs through us all, pumping us full of likeness. IMG_5217

Why else would the unknown woman at the tire store begin telling me about Melissa's baby and showing me the apron she's sewing for her step-mom, who is losing her eyesight? She talked to me like we were old friends, using first names and filling me in on all the latest family news.

Who is Melissa?

Who are you?

Do you not see that I've brought a book?

I don't mind waiting (tire changes, oil changes, doctor's offices) but I don't want to have awkward conversations with strangers—and almost any conversation with a stranger is awkward. Having my nose in a book is surely a cultural-cue for I'm busy and can't talk right now.

Some people miss the cue.

Sometimes a person is so friendly or lonely or upset that any stranger will do, and in my selfishness to steal time, I miss the cue.  I refuse to remove my nose from my own business to hear someone else's. We always are supposed to mind our own, right?

The unknown woman tells me her granddaughter, Melissa, is due any day now and she's made a baby outfit—pink—with scraps she's been saving forever. She rattles on about hard pregnancies and how many babies and how difficult the nights. In a trailing voice that is meant to invite concern, she says she only hopes the baby is healthy.

My mind flits to my internal lists and the proper way to behave and back again to the book in my hand.


I ask if there are complications with the baby and the answer is heartbreakingly predictable—this is a baby who will be born addicted. She will start her little life in the heroin-starved oxygen we all begin with and she will be forced to quit, forced to come clean before she's even had a chance to bring the world into focus. She'll start in the hardest of ways.

I'll pray for her I tell great-grandma. It's the only thing I can think of at the moment, in the waiting room at the tire store with people all around, coming and going. It sounds lame and inadequate as I say it.

She asks what I think of the orange and blue apron. It reminds me of 3 little aprons I made once, one in denim and dinosaurs and two with flowery fabric. It will turn out lovely, I tell her, imagining Step-Mom with feeble eyes, receiving a gift she can barely see. I wonder how she'll use that apron and if she can read her recipes still. I wonder about the family dynamics of this new friend and how step-moms and great-granddaughters get along in the world, and when the drug abuse started and how many babies there have already been.

My friend puts her apron-in-progress back in her bag and sits quiet, as if she's just realized that she's been pouring out family secrets to a stranger; she should start a blog.

Soon her car is ready and she leaves without saying goodbye.

She and I and that precious baby girl are all born to bear an image, not of strangers with familiar tendencies or friends who are like us—we are born for the image of God and it's known and unknown, familiar and all-new, all at one time. Something known and mysterious ties us all together.

I don't claim that my friend at the tire store saw a friendly face in me, the image of God, and decided to open up. I had my book, remember? There's no bow at the end of this story to tie up a neat little lesson. I just expect that the older I get, the less strange strangers are. And if someone needs to talk badly enough, no book will stop them.