I have one of those faces.
Well, no, it’s probably not my face, since I don’t always wear a friendly expression and tend to get lost in thought a lot, even in public.
There’s something about me, though, that induces complete strangers to come up to me in public places (including restrooms) and ask my advice or randomly start conversations with me, conversations that can rapidly turn uncomfortably personal. There are Catholic priests who haven’t heard half the confessions I have.
I was in Walmart (not my favorite place but it’s close to my house) the other night, staring at the mixed-fruit selections and wondering if the kids would actually finish a whole container, when a tiny, older (not old; probably 60ish) woman approached me.
“They used to have the best mangoes,” she said, gesturing toward the fruit display.
Some people kind of half-talk-to-themselves while they browse, I’ve noticed, so I didn’t reply right away in case she was one of those. I risked a glance at her, and she was openly smiling at me, clearly waiting for me to engage.
“Uh…really?” I replied (I’m such a gifted conversationalist; can’t you see why people gravitate toward me? Yeah, me neither).
Mango Lady, as she will forever be known to me now, was off and running with this pleasant little conversation about fruit and life.
My husband was elsewhere in the produce section. It was getting late. I was tired and felt grubby (mentally and physically) from the day. But I also didn’t want to be rude, so I kept chatting with Mango Lady.
Eventually, her steam ran out and she bid me goodbye like we were old friends, ambling off to find the next item on her list after giving me one final piece of advice about where to find the best in-season produce in town.
I’m a socially awkward INFP. Unexpected interactions with people — especially face-to-face — tend to drain and stress me. I can cringe about something dumb I said (and I blurt the dumbest random shit when I’m nervous!) even days later.
Not with Mango Lady, though. She seemed genuinely happy to talk to me, and there was something about her that felt…I don’t know. I felt cleaner after talking to her. (I’m sure that makes no sense, but it’s no less true for that.)
Maybe she was just lonely. Or maybe I was, and I didn’t know until she soothed that feeling. In our increasingly self-isolating society, we have the world at our fingertips, together alone. We are glued to our phones and computers, but our bonds with one another fray. Our sense of community is more global — but less acute. We are awkward and transactional in our face-to-face interactions.
But then along comes a random person who offers us a chance to reconnect simply because we can, human to human with no screens between us, and we remember how good that feels…how necessary that steady infusion of human warmth is to our inner survival.
Thank you for the reminder, Mango Lady. (You too, Random Life Story in the Restroom Lady, and all of the rest of you I have met or will meet someday.)