The Stranger Danger of Community Conversations
Yesterday my husband had surgery (went well and he’s beginning a swift recovery and stronger today) and meanwhile there, I ran out to get him gym shorts and to the pharmacy to go ahead and have his meds done on discharge from surgery. Thankfully I did that, because it only took an hour and a half to complete that mission alone. Yes, you read that right.
Anyways, I was waiting in the hallway with other military spouses, active duty and retirees etc. Being the chatterbox I am, I engaged in conversation with two other spouses close by. We began to talk about what other duty stations we have lived at during the course of our husbands careers, most recent ones prior and comparisons. There was a hospital staff member that suggested we could sit and talk in the cafe, grab a lunch or something to drink and watch the screen there for our tickets to be called for getting prescriptions picked up. So we did just that. Mind you, we were total strangers, never asked each other’s names or anything come to think of it now but we did learn each other’s ticket numbers to help notice if one of us was called while the other not paying attention or stepped away.
Rewind a few minutes before though. While in the hallway we shared our hometowns, distances we travel to see family and friends in other places, how it is to live around military bases, on bases, the behavior in age differences between all aforementioned, the housing markets and feeling stuck on potentially having to take losses if selling now or futuristically. One from PA, one from WNC like me.
While in the cafe, we began to talk about healthcare, foods and life in general. We got into a discussion on allergies and illnesses that people don’t think about. The one lady expressed her serious concern about dairy allergies because she has one. So severe that she wanted wings like I ordered but she was fearful they’d been fried in grease with mozzarella sticks or something dairy wise and she’d suffer later. That sent a lightbulb off in my head!! A green light at that because it made me think, wait, I’m lactose intolerant and I can’t do dairy without suffering consequences myself and sometimes I can eat things that aren’t dairy products but suffer identical pain and symptoms!
(This isn’t a dairy and allergy deal, keep reading- it’s life lessons!) I expressed thanks to her for that because I feel a connection is there in that. They both had similar ideas on how mediocre medical care on bases can be, even off base, some Drs just won’t tell you the in depth of preventing symptoms or things to avoid and we have to be our own advocates for care. I told them I totally agreed with them and told them how I live with an invisible illness and told them about Chiari Malformation and the surgery I had two months ago, then of course they looked stunned and I showed them my battle scar (surgical scar) and they sighed in amazement that I’m up and living life like it’s golden, one said “that’s pretty bad ass of you, you go!” I shared facts of Chiari etc and how it’s hard to find a specialist.
We then talked about children, our children’s schools, social lives changing moving here, positives and negatives alike. We discussed drugstores and how the costs of medications vary from pharmacy to pharmacy and which were inexpensive and don’t make you wait for days like where we were at the time.
Our numbers began to get called. The other girl from WNC was called first, then the girl from PA, then I was called soon after. As we began to part ways, we said our farewells and thanks for having conversations and wished each other a great day.
Still wondering where this is going right? Ok. See, when I was in the hallway there were many people! A diverse group of people and strangers for the most part with exception of a few who were staff members who knew each other, a man and his service dog, a man and his spouse. Various races, genders, ethnicities. But for the most part, everyone was standing silently glued to their phone screens, looking as if they hoped that nobody was going to begin talking to them. And here we were smack in the middle, two blondes and a mixed breed (Me) who began a conversation about how long we were set to wait and the new system to scan ID cards to get scripts but it grew into so much more and fast.
If only we could be like that everyday, everyone not just some people. But willing to give others a chance, willing to listen to others and just be kind! See, there were women in the hallway that were the same race as me, but when I passed by and said hello, they looked at me like “do you know her?” To each other and responded with an ole dry “hey”, “hello”, or a seemingly hesitant hand wave.
There was another lady right by us, beautiful woman with perfectly caramel colored skin and she looked terrified that we would possibly start talking to her. (lol) But she was listening to us bc she would occasionally look our ways. The seed was planted to not fear engagement with our peers. Every friend was a stranger when you first met them. Everybody that “matches you” won’t engage with you or connect.
But what we accomplished was this, an extraordinary example of how if we take strangers from different walks of life, different ages, races and put them in an environment where they have to talk or be bored with themselves, put down the devices that have become distractions from people but more into the media’s perception- we might learn from each other, we might be able to talk to each other, we might have an understanding of what each persons views are in life, what each is facing, how someone else has experienced life in different demographics and geographic locations. The endless possibilities there!
If only we could have the same kind of open conversations about how this allergy of adversity, plague of prejudice, rash of racial tension and terminal terrorism that has built a plaque in the hearts and minds of many generations in this country. Because everyone has an ailment of it in some form whether it’s internal or external links, it’s there. We killed the concept that all we have now is divide! We disrupted the regularly scheduled news and put on a reality series live with diversity working in positivity. We chose to connect and support the next person with encouragement and kindness.
When is the last time you talked to a stranger?