One of the hardest things for me to do as an (extroverted) introvert is starting a conversation with a stranger. Whether it’s a room full of high-powered leaders, folks with a common interest, or even little kids, gatherings can be anxiety-inducing for me. It makes it even more complicated when people are of a different race, age, or gender, speak a different language, or believe in vastly different things.
However, that doesn’t stop me from continuing to try.
The irony is that I am a pretty laid-back, adaptable person. I love getting to know people. My whole aura is grounded in welcoming and caring, having an open heart, and listening. Over the years I’ve figured out a few ways to calm my nerves; take deep breaths, say a prayer, or bring a friend. Those practical things are helpful, but what really got me over my fear is realizing that even though the first conversation with a stranger is hard, living in a world of strangers is harder.
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Imagine all the people in your life who were once strangers whom you now love; people who have taught you something, supported you, inspired you, challenged you, and loved you back.
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Last December, on a wintry night around 2 a.m., I picked up a little girl, who we fostered over the Christmas season. She had traveled from the border to Indiana that day, and many miles before that. A few snowflakes were starting to fall, so we kept our greetings short at the doorway to the agency.
The first few minutes of the car ride were a bit nerve-wracking as we tried to think of what to say to each other. When our family started fostering back in August and picked up our first child, it was like leaving the hospital for the first time with a newborn baby. We felt the excitement and relief that we could do something important, but that was mixed with anxiousness at the sheer responsibility of taking care of another human being.
For a stretch of the drive, the little girl and I were quiet as I navigated the dark streets and the snow fluttered past my windshield. After some deep breaths and prayers, I broke the ice. I asked if she had ever seen snow before. She said no. I asked if she had lived in a big city or a small town, and said something funny that made her laugh. I could hear the relief in her voice as she answered my questions, both of us taking a little bit of an exhale.
I didn’t want us to be strangers, so my not-quite-perfect Spanish and introverted nature were overcome by my need to make her feel safe and welcome, and loved.
Related Post: Seeing and Listening is a reflection on one of my favorite books of 2022, See No Stranger by Valarie Kaur. One of the repeated mantras throughout the book that has stayed with me is, “You are a part of me I do not yet know.”