Last night, I had what seems to be a quintessential NYC experience.
I came out of a (wonderful) bar with C and my dear friend E, and we stood at the bottom of the stairs, laughing and basking in the cool night air. A few minutes later, a man with a beautiful Scottish accent asked to bum a cigarrette. Between the three of us there was one lone smoke being passed, so E handed it to him immediately, as he seemed a bit distressed.
I’m trying to get home to my wee babies, he said, his eyes filling. He was carrying three small shopping bags, and had just come out of the same bar. We struck up conversation and he showed us photos of his adorable three children and his lovely home back in Scotland. He’d been screwed over by a stupid airline, and was spending an unplanned extra night in the city.
For me, there are three stages of Strangerdom:
Stage 1: Caution. Who is this person? What does he/she really want? Do I feel safe?
Stage 2: Doubt. Really? He/she is who he/she says they are?
Stage 3: All-in. And….I’m hooked. I’m suddenly in the person’s life, and they’re in mine, and we’re having an experience together.
Of course, this all happened in about two minutes. And I admit that a Scottish brogue is charming as hell. And then C pulled out his pipe and that settled it. We all became thick as thieves.
We stood there for about 20 minutes, just talking.
Some fantastically quoted lines from a Robbie Burns poem later, we all got into our respective cabs and parted ways.
The gentleman had given us his card, and I sent him an email, hoping he made it home safely, and thanking him for the great stories. He replied a few hours later, with a brilliant turn of phrase about when we visit Scotland and look him up.
Which, you know, we totally would.
I thought about this encounter today when I read about the horrific shooting in Aurora, Colorado. I don’t have any solutions and I don’t stand on any soapboxes about what happened. All I know is I believe human beings want connection. I think about the times in my life when I felt alone, un-moored, angry. I always had someone I could turn to for help.
The story will continue to unfold, and the affect this man, James Holmes, has had is terrible and immutable. But, I hope, not unthinkable. We must think on this. We so clearly must dwell on a pain that continues to demonstrate on innocent people simply going about their lives. Aurora, Virginia Tech…it’s nearly impossible to imagine how and why. But we must.
I’ve been in this city for 20 days. Last night I spent 20 minutes talking with a man I didn’t know. I left feeling like his country is an arm’s reach away.
World peace has always seemed like a lovely, but lofty and ultimately, un-doable goal. It’s too big.
But 20 minutes. It’s a start.