Strangers and the Funny Papers

I’m thirsty.

Not for water or coffee or tea, but for conversations.

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 like I know the other person better, that person knows me better, and I know myself better.

It was a long time.

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

The rain in Seattle stopped as we move into summer, and I took my book to Lake Washington to read in the afternoon. I find a pleasant park bench with a view of the glittering water, where the sailboats sound like wind chimes when they hop in the water.

With relaxing mask duties, my face is bare, open, soaking up the sun and smiling impotently. Everyone. Single. Time. I go to the water to read; a stranger will come to me to talk. Sometimes the visitor asks what I’m reading and sometimes 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 most, I can sense that others are just like me. After a year of loneliness, after a year of masks that separate us from the people right next to us, we want to talk.

I think we want to see good in each other again. Last year we began to see ourselves as enemies. But now we see the Imago Dei, the image of God, shining from our being with open faces.

We are no longer disembodied images on a screen or faces hidden behind masks, but people who reflect the image of our Creator. This reminds us how to treat one another, each one as something of value, as someone God loves.

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

Yesterday an older man, almost 80, in an old red flannel and a shoeshine cap, came up to me on my park bench to ask me how to get home on the bus. He lived near me for 15 years, not a mile from the lake, but had never been there. His sister suggested that he leave his apartment after a year of imprisonment to see the lake and soak up some sun. He told me he had a lovely hour working on the crossword puzzle for the newspaper. I showed him the nearest bus stop and after a few minutes of chatting we said goodbye. When he left, he stopped and looked at me. “Do you want my funny papers?” He asked, holding up the newspaper. Our conversation was short, but we’d laughed, smiled, listened, and he’d felt himself seen again for the first time in a year. Of course I wanted his funny papers. He brought her over and patted me twice on the shoulder before laying her on the bench. You were a gift.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.

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