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Friday, January 6, 2012

How I Learned to Talk to Strangers

How I Learned to Talk to Strangers

Somewhere outside of Buffalo New Year’s Day 1973 or 1974, Richard, Jennifer and I were on a Greyhound Bus bound for Syracuse. It was the end of what today would be called “visitation” but what we referred to as “the week after Christmas at Dad’s house”. The road we were on looked out over Lake Erie from a little bit of a height advantage. There were big chunks of ice bobbing in the water and it was truly magical. Wind was blowing up fallen snow and making it dance over the fields as we passed. There were not many buildings around and those that were seemed nondescript. Suddenly, we stopped in the middle of nowhere to allow two ancient nuns waiting by the roadside to get on. Just before the second nun took her seat, she paused at the front of the bus and turned to all of us.  In a beautiful voice she proclaimed “Happy New Year to you all,” smiled and took her seat.

I went through three intense emotions in the space of a few seconds that only an eight-year-old-heart could withstand: shock; embarrassment; inspiration. I didn’t know that strangers were allowed to talk to other strangers or that you could wish someone you didn’t know a “Happy New Year”. I had been so embarrassed for the nun in choosing to address the entire bus. I thought she must have felt stupid afterward. Yet, I couldn’t help but notice how it changed the mood of us fellow holiday travelers. For what is more lonesome than to be relegated to a Greyhound bus full of strangers on a day that should be a snowbound sabbath of family and friends? This nun had broken the silent sadness and fearlessly reminded us that a fresh year was upon us and we should make it happy. And that we should never be afraid to tell each other so. That is how I learned to talk to strangers.


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