Talking to Strangers
By: Carrie Classon
I got anxious again today.
I think I am getting better at leaving anxiety behind, and then anxiety says, “Not so fast! We have more work to do.”
Usually, this has to do with my writing: “Is it good enough? Does she hate it?” But not always. Sometimes I will post something on Facebook, and someone will take offense. Since I make an effort to never post anything controversial or unkind, this always shocks me and makes me wonder if I have any idea how I sound when I write. Since writing is pretty much all I do, this concern starts to bang around in my brain like a kitten knocking things off the shelf.
“What was I thinking?” I wonder. But I don’t actually remember thinking anything at all. I will make comments I imagine are helpful or clarifying, and end up offending someone and wondering why I did not just remain silent.
The best thing to do at this point is to take a walk.
On my walk, I usually encounter a few homeless people. The Catholic Church nearby feeds them and provides other services, so there are usually a handful of folks, who have some kind of problem that I have never had to deal with, waiting in the summer heat or the winter cold for the doors to open so they can get the help they need. I talk to these folks as I walk by. Some of them ignore me. Most of them smile and return the greeting.
But occasionally, I meet someone who just stares at me, like, “What is her story?”
And the funny thing about this is that they assume I have one.
“It’s going to be cooler tomorrow!” I announced yesterday to a gentleman sitting on the steps. Only as I got closer did I notice he had his head under his T-shirt. He pulled it out when he heard me.
“It’s going to be really cool,” I repeated to the confused-looking fellow. “Much cooler than normal!”
He stared at me as if I was speaking in code. I could tell that—whatever he thought of me—he assumed I knew what I was talking about. He thought I had it together. He had no way of knowing how many days I wondered if hiding under my own T-shirt might not be the best strategy.
I realized by then that he had some cognitive problem, but I felt I needed to wrap up the conversation anyway—just for the sake of politeness.
“So, you take care, OK?”
I waved and headed off, realizing I had just embarrassed myself in front of a man who was hiding under his own T-shirt.
We are all making up stories for one another without knowing what the real story is.
The story I make up for myself when I am anxious is that I am failing—somehow, somewhere—and no one has told me how or why. But I have no idea why that man was hiding under his T-shirt, and I’m betting his reasons were a lot better than mine.
By now I know that my anxiety is a mood, that it will pass. As uncomfortable and demanding as it is in the moment, it is almost impossible to remember after the fact. Walking helps. And talking to people—even folks who seem a little confused—helps as well.
It is cooler today—just as I promised the fellow on the steps it would be. I am going to put on my shoes right now and talk to some strangers.
Till next time,
– Carrie Classon is a freelance writer and author and lives in New Mexico. Her columns appear each week.