“Can I tell you something?”
This is how it started. No niceties about the day – just a random and direct request for conversation.
I had been crossing paths with a woman on my everyday walk for a few days. She was a runner. I was a walker. I had been watching her. She made approximately 12 laps of the field to my one. Her dog sometimes ran beside her. We had started to acknowledge each other with a nod.
I was the river side of the field, walking clockwise. She was the rugby end of the field running anticlockwise. She left the perimeter and started running towards me. When she got to within a few yards, she said “can I tell you something?”
Of course she could. She came to a standstill, I stood to face her, and she told me something which had recently happened to her which she couldn’t integrate or make sense of. I listened and offered some possible suggestions. We walked slowly together towards home, until we found that we needed to go into different directions. The conversation finished and we parted.
The next time I saw her I asked how things were. We walked again, and we talked again. We talked about her situation. We talked about her feelings. We found some common interests. And so we went on. Our sense of camaraderie blossomed and we took it out of the boundaries of the walking field and into the world beyond. We walked different walks, went to dinner together, and introduced each other to mutual friends.
From one single request for conversation, we forged a lifelong friendship: lifelong being the operative word because my dear friend was ill. She was more ill than either of us initially knew, wanted to recognize or give credence to. We fought it like veritable soldiers. I dug deep into my bag of knowledge of alternative therapies and she frantically googled the ideas I came up with for anything that resonated. We made it our daily mission to support our quest with ideas, strength and humour. We looked for signs together and when we saw one we put all our money on it to win.
During her life, that one small request for conversation gave us so many gifts. She benefited from being amongst my crazy loving family. I benefited from her enormous courage and drier-than-dry humour. We met gentle and powerful healers. The good karma we were creating was tangible. After her death I made some firm friendships from her connections, I fell in love, and I am still meeting friends of her friends who are becoming an important part of my life. The ripples keep on spreading and the gift keeps on giving.
Never underestimate the potential of a random piece of conversation.
The throw-away comment about a brand of toothpaste with the cashier may be ignored, but on the other hand you may learn something about her dental problem and be able to relieve an anxiety. That happened to me once. Tesco Express!
Sometimes people ignore your efforts. Sometimes they look at you as if you might be thinking of asking them something particularly personal or embarrassing. Sometimes they might look at you in complete gob-smacked incredulity that you can speak at all. It doesn’t really matter. Occasionally you may even get some rudeness in return. That doesn’t really matter either. Each reaction says more about them than it does about your attempt to connect. It is the reaching out which matters: Making a difference to someone else’s day.
Not every act of random conversation will turn out to be a Jane. But when you pan for gold there will often be something glistening in the bottom of the sieve. Not enough to make you rich and change your life maybe, but enough to give a spark of excitement and raise your morale or theirs. And once in while you get a rare nugget that really creates mutual wealth!