Strangers and the Funny Papers

stack of newspapers - image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I am thirsty.

Not for water or coffee or tea but for conversation.

And I’m not talking about the weather or the plague or politics. I’m talking about deep listening. The kind of conversation where I feel I know the other person better, that person knows me better, and I know myself better.

It has been a long time.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Seattle rains have ceased as we move into summer, and I’ve been taking my book down to Lake Washington in the afternoons to read. I’ll find a pleasant park bench overlooking the sparkling water, where the sailboats sound like wind chimes as they bounce in the water.

With mask mandates relaxing, my face is bare, open, soaking up sunshine, and passing out smiles. Every. Single. Time. I go out to the water to read; a stranger will come up to me to talk. Sometimes the visitor asks what I am reading, and other times the stranger points out a bald eagle sitting in a nearby tree or how clearly we can see Mount Rainier. Although the interactions are short, maybe five minutes at the most, I sense others feel the same as I do. After a year of solitude, after a year of masks disconnecting us from people right next to us, we want to talk.

I think we want to see goodness in each other again. This past year we began to view each other as the enemy. But now, with our faces open, we see the Imago Dei, the image of God, shine out of our being.

We are no longer disembodied images on a screen or faces hidden behind masks, but humans reflecting the image of our Maker. This is reminding us how to treat one another, each one as someone precious, as someone God loves.

I don’t know how to take the conversation from surface to deep with a stranger or even my own friends. I want to fill that need in both of us to connect and really see each other again. But I am willing to be open, to be present. I think this is why strangers keep coming up to me. They sense that.

Yesterday, an older man, nearly 80, in an old red flannel and shoeshine-boy cap, approached me on my park bench to ask me how to catch the bus home. He lived near me, not a mile from the lake, for 15 years but had never been down to it. His sister suggested he get out of his apartment after a year of being cooped in, to see the lake and soak in some sunshine. He told me he spent a glorious hour working on the newspaper crossword puzzle. I pointed him to the nearest bus stop, and after a few minutes of chit-chat, we said goodbye. As he walked away, he stopped and looked back at me. “Would you like my funny papers?” he asked, holding up the newspaper. Our talk was short, but we had laughed, smiled, listened, and he had felt seen for the first time in a year. Of course, I wanted his funny papers. He brought them over and double tapped me on the shoulder with them before setting them down on the bench. They were a gift.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.

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