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.

 

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Embrace the Silence

photo copy 5It was an absolutely beautiful afternoon today so I decided to go to the Colliding Rivers to do some journaling. The water was pure blue, the sky clear of a single cloud, the sun shining down lighting up the lush green Oregon landscape. The perfect place for an afternoon of nature, relaxation, and thoughts.

After finishing up my journal entry, I decided that it was too beautiful of an afternoon to head home just yet. I got in my car and started driving down the road so I could visit a few more lookout spots along the beautiful Umpqua River. When I got in the car, I put the key in the ignition, unconsciously pushed the radio button on, and I began driving like I would do any other time.

Within about two minutes whatever it was that I had been listening to turned into noise. Why yes, I am aware of the fact that the song, was indeed sound which is a noise, but it was obnoxious, annoying, and made my head spin. It was not just the song because it was a song that I would enjoy on any other day.

I had sat by the river for nearly two hours expressing every deep thought onto paper. I was deep in my mind and deep in my soul as sounds of rushing water were quietly heard in the background. I had gone from listening to my soul to listening to something that was filling up empty air. The music was overtaking the silence in my mind and soul. My mind was slowly becoming busy with words of nothingness.

I turned off the radio and I continued driving. After a minute, I was at peace. I could hear nothing but silence. A beautiful silence. A silence that allowed for nothing to fill the void between my mind and the world around me. Nothing to take the place of the thoughts deep inside that are often covered up by the noise of the world. I had spent the last two hours releasing the thoughts from inside my mind, inside my soul, and that noise from the radio was trying to refill my mind.

In the silence I could truly appreciatephoto nature and the beauty of that drive, of seeing the green grass and the vibrant blue sky, and keeping my mind still. In the silence I could fully take in the beauty of God’s Earth and relate it to the beauty that is inside of me. There was nothing in my head and there was nothing interfering with my ability to think and live in the moment.

Turning off the noise allows you to be where you are and to think what you need to think. Turning it off allows you to discover what is within and what you need to see. It allows you to think the thoughts you should be thinking. It allows you to deal with today and not put off things you do not want to deal with.

Sometimes we need silence. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate music as much as the next person does. But sometimes taking the time to turn off the phone, tv, radio, or computer and just being, just existing, will bring us back to our true selves.

Silence allows you to uncover your deepest thoughts. It allows you to not only uncover them, but to experience them, to understand them, and to live them.

Free Yourself From the Clutter

Thirteen. The number of boxes.

The number of boxes that had been piling up underneath and cluttered around the ping pong table in the basement of my house. Boxes that are filled with memories. Memories of high school, Shippensburg University, and Messiah College. Memories of track meets, friends, roommates, classes that I defeated, and classes that defeated me.

These boxes held it all. Papers I wrote in high school and college, church newsletters that had been sent to my college addresses, Halloween and birthday cards, rubrics, lesson plans, lifting schedules, and even a letter that I sent to Proctor & Gamble years ago concerning a commercial idea that I had for their Tide to Go stick.

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Pencils, pens, socks, cds, projects, cups, plates, race bibs, old textbooks, and pictures. Pictures of friends who came in to my life for a period and are now only a distant memory. Pictures of teams, of family, and of people who I know will remain my best friends until the day I die.

You name it, I found it. In those boxes.

In those thirteen boxes that continued to pile up over the last six years of my educational life.

It was the same story every year. It would be move-out day and my dad would drive to my college to pack up the car. Of course my friends and I never began the packing process until the night before we had to be moved out. When my father would arrive the following day my disaster of a desk would still be waiting for the box or boxes that were on their way to save it. Everything went in the box. The box went from the dorm room to the car. From the car to my house and ended up right next to the boxes from the previous years where it would wait until it was joined by the new set of boxes the following year.

On January 25th, I will be returning back to Oregon to continue working with the Boys & Girls Club through another 6-month AmeriCorps service term. I felt as though this time before leaving would be a great time to finally go through these boxes and take a look back at the last six years of my life.

It can be quite a daunting task. You see such a large portion of your life sitting in front of you. You look at it and know that it will be messy both physically and mentally. Digging things up from the past. Things that remind you of who you once were and what you once hoped for. Things that remind you of paths you were going down before signs started leading you in different directions.

Over the past few days I have had the opportunity to re-live the past 6 years of my life from running at Nationals in Texas while attending Shippensburg, to discovering my Creation Project I made my first semester at Messiah, to finding each and every notebook from every class that I have taken during this time period.

I challenge you to de-clutter your life with the start of this New Year. Both a physical and mental de-cluttering. Start with the physical. Maybe you don’t have thirteen boxes to go through, but I am sure that there is some area of your home or office that could use a little help. Get rid of everything you do not use and have not used. Throw it out. You do not need it. It is freeing. Your physical space and your mental space are connected. Somehow the throwing away of ten years of old clothes will not only free up the physical space but will leave your mind feeling less cluttered as well. Try it and see!

As I sat down to blog today, I asked my dad what one possession he owns that he has kept the longest, where he got it from, and why he has kept it for so long. His response was a shirt that his parents gave him his senior year in high school. He kept it through all of these years because of the good memories that he associates with it. Good memories of his youth and time spent with old friends during a different place in time.

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We all have physical things in our lives that we do not want to throw away. Memories in our lives can be woven into our possessions like the fabric that makes a shirt. While donating and throwing away our possessions can be a hard task to do, discarding of what is not needed allows us to feel free and to be free. It allows us to have space and to appreciate what truly matters. During my de-cluttering I most definitely saved my good luck signs, track and field secret sister notes, some birthday notes, and picture collages. I look forward to the time years from now when I pull this box out of the closet to reminisce about some truly amazing times.

Not only should we work on de-cluttering the physical realm of our lives, but the mental realm as well. As I previously stated, downsizing the physical is a good start to downsizing the mental realm as it allows you to create a new appreciation for your world. The start of a new year is a great time to look inside, look back on your year, and rid your mind of the clutter. Of what is causing you stress and tension. It is a time to forgive those whom you hold grudges against. Let go of your pain and hurt from the past year.

Take it out of your mental box, look at it, acknowledge it’s presence in your life, figure out who if anyone you need to forgive, do it, and then dispose of it and set yourself free.

De-cluttering will allow for space in our lives. A space that is meant to remain empty. When we free ourselves of this clutter, we will free ourselves from that which we are bound allowing us to fill our lives with simplicity and life.

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