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Greeting Strangers

A few words can bring laughter and good feelings. While four college girlfriends and I spent four days together, we stopped at a Walgreens to buy hand lotion, ice, and playing cards. 

My friends stood nearby when I laid ice and cards on the checkout counter. A man, about age 40, stood behind me and cleared his throat. “Hmmm.  Looks like it’s poker night,” he said and smiled slightly.  With a serious look, I replied, “You’re exactly right.” His slow nod made me chuckle and I shook my head; then he laughed, as did the woman behind him.  

A fifteen-second encounter among strangers.  Yet, one of the best stories from our girlfriend trip to celebrate our 75th birthdays.  Who would suggest a group of retired women would buy ice and cards for poker night?  (Actually, we’d planned to deal a few hands of bridge, but we didn’t stop talking until bedtime.)  This young man’s comment brought smiles to everyone who heard him.

            A friendly comment can make both the giver and receiver smile. A FaceBook friend posted about giving compliments to strangers.  Words can be simple.  ‘Love those shoes.’  ‘Great looking hair!’  ‘I like that green shirt.’   Why give such compliments?  The FB post states: Because life is hard and some people are just plain mean. You never know what other people are going through and a few positive words might make them happier, at least for the moment, and will boost your spirits, too.

When I do grocery shopping, stock clerks are often in the aisles opening boxes and placing items on shelves.  What a monotonous job.  One day as I put cake mixes in my shopping cart, I said, “You keep everything so orderly on the shelves.  Thanks for making it easier to shop.”  The young man turned to me, grinned, and said, “Thanks.  No one ever noticed.”

            I admit speaking to strangers doesn’t come naturally to me.  I’ll stand shoulder to shoulder in a crowded elevator and only acknowledge those around me with a half-smile and not say a word.  I think of Husband’s and my long-time friend Russell who lived the adage of never meeting a stranger.

            While riding on an elevator, Russell would strike up a conversation with strangers, make connections, exchange contact information, and claim kinship.  He had the gift of putting strangers at ease and making all around him happier.  One time I dreaded going to a social event where I knew very few people and I gave myself a pep talk, ‘I’m going to be like Russell and have a good time.’  I’ve shortened that talk:  Be a Russell.

            Who needs compliments?  Everyone.  Even a few words encourage.

Who responds to friendly comments?  Almost everyone.  We college friends certainly did.  Every time I play with those cards, I’ll smile, or maybe I’ll send each girlfriend one card on her next birthday. 

Because a young man greeted me, a stranger, my friends and I laughed and have a happy memory.