Have you talked to a stranger today?

photo-1He stood on the edges of the crowded café of Barnes & Noble. His eyes wandered around looking carefully for a spot to sit. I looked up at the older man and wondered to myself, what was his story? Why was he here?

Nobody seemed to be moving from their tables. Everyone was focused on their own life, on their own apparent reality. Sidetracked by computer screens, books, people, conversations, and coffee. Everyone living in their own little world next to everyone else’s own little world. Not with each other, but next to each other.

I just sat at my little table in the corner. My favorite spot. My table was tucked away and provided the perfect amount of window light and the ever-so-lucky open outlet. Comfort on the fringes of the greater society.

Looking at the man still standing there, three thoughts entered my mind. 1.) I like this corner table spot that I am sitting at and I want to sit here until the end of the afternoon. 2.) I should get up and let this older man take my space. It would make him happy. And 3.) I was sitting alone at a table for two, maybe I should invite him to sit with me.

It was one of those built up feelings you get when you are anxious, excited, and are pushed just a little bit outside of your comfort zone by your thoughts. You want to take action but something is holding you back. Why could I not get up off of the chair to walk over to this man? As my brain fought within itself, a woman in the middle of the café got up to leave and the old man now had a place to sit. Relief. Or so I thought.

My intent had then changed from finding this man a seat, to a genuine interest in him, his interactions with others, and the way in which he set up his table for two. He picked out a special chair from the neighboring table to set up across from him. He sat at his table alone, pulled out a magazine and occasionally peered up as if he was looking for the person who was to sit in the special seat.

You could say that I enjoy people watching and I would certainly agree with you. But I think that it is much more than that. For me, it is more than casually watching people, seeing what they are wearing or who they are with. It is more so about observing their interactions with humanity and with the environment in which they are living.

For me people watching is about wondering what the world would be like if all of the separate lives that we live were lived together. If we didn’t live in a world where it was weird or awkward to go to a coffee shop or restaurant and sit down with a complete stranger. I wonder what a connected world would look like. A world truly connected through personal interactions, not through social media. What would a world of breaking our socially constructed norms look like?

I knew that at some point I wanted to walk over and ask this man a question. Show an interest in a random person I will never see again. Become socially aware and involved in the greater world around me. Live with people instead of next to them. I wondered if I would get the courage to stand up out of my seat and go over to him. To say hello and to ask about life. To show that maybe we do not have to live independent lives in our own little worlds.

I was not sure what would get me out of the chair and try this social experiment. Literally as this thought entered into my head, the answer appeared at my table.

“How are you doing today?” asked a man who I am assuming was the manager.

“I’m doing well, thank you.” I responded.

“Will you be joining us for coffee or cookies today?”

I sat there slightly confused wondering if maybe they were having some sort of special event in the store. I answered with a hesitant no and he responded with more of a demanding response.

“I ask that you please pack up your things and move to the chairs over there. We are very busy today”. He pointed to the awkward chairs by the magazines with no tables that nobody ever wants to sit in.

I am assuming that my lack of coffee cup initiated him approaching me. I was slightly annoyed as I began packing up my things because I had certainly spent my money there before on numerous occasions, just not today.

Nevertheless, I knew that this was my sign. I did not know what would get me up out of the chair until this man literally came over to me and told me to get up. I knew where I was headed next.

I fixed my eyes on the older man still sitting alone in the middle of the café and walked right over to him. I said, “Hello sir, how are you doing today?” The man looked up with a smile on his face and responded with a generic answer of something in the category of “good.” I asked him if he minded if I asked him a question and he said sure.

I asked the man, “If you could give one piece of advice to another person on how to live their life, what would it be?” His glance turned from my face to the magazine on the table in front of him. I knew that he was thinking. After a few seconds he turned his glance back up to me and said, “I know it isn’t easy, but my advice is to figure out what you want and get it.”I asked him if he had been able to do this in his life. His response was that he had not, but it was advice that he has given his daughter.

My question lead to a short conversation about life, school, Pittsburgh, football, reading, where my question had come from, and how I wished to write a book someday. During our conversation a woman had come and sat down with him. I said goodbye and he wished me well.

Stepping out of my comfort zone is something that I have not done for a while. It is something that I believe is vital to our growth and is vital to helping us determine our purpose for being alive. This is only my first encounter of many to come in my attempts to not live next to people, but live with them. I look forward to my next encounter and can only hope that the experience is as rewarding as my encounter with the man at Barnes & Noble.



Find home in your heart

photo If you would have told me during my early college years that upon graduation I would be living in the state of Oregon, I probably would have laughed in your face. Adventurer was by no means a word that I would have selected to describe myself. I was fine in my bubble and saw no need to adventure out of it. I saw no need to look outside of my walls. Here are three of the definitions that Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary provides for the word home.

  1. One’s place of residence
  2. A place of origin
  3. A familiar or usual setting

There are three specific locations where I have lived that I would call home for some time period of my life—York, PA, Mechanicsburg, PA, and Roseburg, OR. I grew up in York, went to college in Mechanicsburg, and completed my AmeriCorps service terms in Roseburg. If I had gone to Messiah College and not been on the track team, not made friends, and not became one with the community, I do not think I would have ever called it home. What if I had grown up in a house where I did not feel loved or supported by my parents, would I have called it home? If I hated my AmeriCorps service term, did not like my position, and had no friends, I am sure that it would not have made the list of places that I call home.

Clearly, the idea of home is not defined by the location in which you live. Home is defined by experiences, by love, by fulfilling your hearts passion, by friendships, by a support system, and by living in an environment that brings out the best in you where you can say “this is me”.

Within the past 2 years I have moved to Oregon, back to Pennsylvania, back to Oregon, and in August I will be moving back to Pennsylvania yet again. When I returned back to Pennsylvania after living in Oregon for my first year, I realized that I had forgotten something out in Oregon— my heart. So, I came back here to find it. I came back to the place where I had lived for the year after I graduated from college. I came back in search of where I had left my heart.

Did I find it, you ask? I found my heart in the Oregon trees. I found it in the children who I work with every day. I found it in the stillness of my river journaling spot. I found it in the simple, laid back Oregon lifestyle. Yes, I would say that I found my heart. Well, part of it at least.

Life was easy when I had one place I called home. Heck, it was even easy when I had two places that I called home because they were only 45 minutes from each other. But now that I have a place I call home that is 3,000 miles away from my other two homes, my heart becomes torn.

You frequently hear that “home is where your heart is”. This definition makes my heart feel slightly confused as it is defined by a location in which you feel the deepest affection. I think that it is more accurate to say that home is where you left a piece of your heart. Home is a chunk of your heart that you permanently left somewhere that you will never get back.

As I have struggled to discover my true home, I realized that there is not one specific place that I can say is my home. My actual house where I grew up in, the apartment that I stayed in during college, and the house that I am currently renting from are only bricks and wood. A physical home is easily demolished while a heart home can last forever.

But sometimes you unfortunately find that something that was home has become home no more. A broken friendship. Sometimes home doesn’t last forever. Sometimes certain homes are meant to come and go– change us, teach us, and prepare us for our next home.

I like to think that I have a big heart. My big heart can hold a whole lot of home. While my heart is at home with the children in Roseburg Oregon, it is also at home with my friends in Mechanicsburg, PA. My heart is at home when I am at my church in York as it is when I am in my church in Mechanicsburg and Roseburg. Home is everywhere where two souls connect.

When I leave Roseburg in a little over a month, I am at first saddened by the thought of what I will be leaving behind. I will once again leave behind a part of my heart. What I find comfort in, is the fact that the same heart that will be losing a part will be regaining a part that it had not seen recently. I no longer look at it as a piece of my heart that I have forgotten, but a piece of my heart that will forever be a part of who I am.

There are so many places in this country and in this world that are looking to enter my heart. New places with people I can impact and with people who can impact me. New views on life and the world that I can discover; new journaling places. With every stranger you have the potential of becoming friends just like with every place that you visit you have the potential of finding a new home.

I was once asked what it is that I am searching for—why I can’t seem to settle in one place. I could not answer the question at the time I was asked. But know I can see that I am returning to PA for a rejuvenation of part of my heart before I adventure off to discover yet another new part.

Find the adventurer inside of you and discover your heart in a new place. This may be somewhere nearby or it may be that big move you’ve always dreamed of. Take a chance in discovering a piece of your heart that you never knew was missing.

Home is the make-up of everything that has stolen a piece of your heart. Therefore your heart is the make-up of what you call home.