November 3, 2018

A Thought or Two: Trusting Strangers

The other night on the short walk home from the subway station after a slightly overpriced dinner with a great friend, I had two encounters with one thing in common.

A gentleman with a probing cane for vision impairment was walking right into a poorly delineated construction zone - essentially an odd maze of pylons right before a small step down to the next walkable surface. I stopped when it seemed that he may not be able to tell what was happening and offered to direct him out of the funny little pylon zone. He accepted the help and then asked me for directions to the subway and I offered to walk him there. I then offered him my arm for guidance, again he agreed, and allowed me to lead the way through traffic and intersections back to the subway station. You never know what level of vision someone has, even if they have a probing cane, so for all I know he had some vision, or entirely none. It didn't really matter - we chatted and introduced ourselves. The moment that changed my perception of this encounter was when the ground dipped just a little and had some uneven bumps from shoddy pavement work. I felt him hesitate and realized he didn't truly know where I was leading him, or what was happening under his feet. I assured him it was just a matter of bad city infrastructure, an explanation he seemed content with.

Something that has really struck me since moving so near to a subway station is that I now encounter persons living with homelessness almost daily. There are several regular frequenters of my area and I am always a bit hesitant to pull out my wallet to dig out some change - a bi-product perhaps of living in Paris and traveling alone, where you never flash what's in your wallet to strangers around you. I've been thinking about ways to have small change easily accessible to help when I can. This time, on my way home that same night, I had leftover chicken pot pie from my dinner. There was a woman who reached out to me, sitting next to the door of a busy fast food spot. I asked her if she was interested in some food. Immediately, she reached out both her arms, head nodding. She did not hesitate for a second to accept the mystery box of leftovers I had in my hands. I assured her any way - telling her it was a really yummy chicken pot pie and that I really hope she enjoys it. She didn't seem to need to be reassured and was just happy to accept it nonetheless.

I wondered, truly, if I would have been as trusting of me if I were in their shoes. I found it remarkable that these two strangers trusted me - a random person out of hundreds walking by. The first gentleman might not have even been able to see what I looked like and essentially trusted me based on my voice and the touch of my arm and my hand. The woman who accepted my food had no idea who I was or what my motivation might have been in offering food. For all she knew, it was an empty box or filled with something inedible. And yet her arms reached out so fully and openly to accept what I offered. I think I would have been so much more skeptical if I were either of these individuals.

Helping others always feels good - I admit I felt like I had done my good deeds for the day and definitely felt like a good person. That's not really what stood out to me though and not what I hope to relay here. It's important to remember that it was these two individuals who allowed me to help. It was SO powerful to be trusted by two strangers like that. We spend so much of our time - especially those of us who are young women - focused on self preservation and our personal safety. Approaching strangers on the street is something we are taught not to do at a super early age, and just like my aforementioned wallet neurosis, we learn so many tips and tricks to avoid risk from strangers on the street.

These risks are real. The consequences and fears are valid. However, there is beauty in the moments we let down our guard, too. I'm not sure what my conclusion is here, but it just felt good to let my wall down a little and to have others let their walls down for me in return. These days my brain is swirling with relational theories and how to make the world more relational - as you know if you've read this blog recently, so I can't help but connect these experiences to some of those ideas too.

What would the world be like if we were more trusting to those we pass on the street every day, whether they are helping us or we are helping them?
(I'm serious - tell me your vision in the comments!)

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