For a couple of years I’ve been paying for a mostly-empty storage shed, which is kind of silly since I have a garage now...and have had one for over a year. I’d brought the motorcycles over to the house pretty quickly, but I’d left a bunch of, let’s face it, junk: An old, pre-DOS “portable computer” the size of a suitcase (CPM operating system); three dead laptop computers; three electronic musical keyboards I cannot play; camping equipment; clothes I’ll never wear; hundreds of aviation magazines...you know, the typical crap that we accumulate that we just never get rid of for some reason.
So recently my friend Gene and I went and collected all of the rest of the, um, stuff. A lot of it got thrown out, but the rest of it now resides in my garage, waiting patiently to be sorted and repositioned to the dump or saved and elevated to the attic – which I’ll get to, I swear! Don’t rush me.
After we were done I went to the office to tell them I was leaving. In place of the youngish ex-Navy guy who runs the place was a woman – a white-haired, older woman who might have been his mother or possibly grandmother – almost as old as my own mother. Pushing 80 in any event. She was healthily plump and she had this happy, open face and these wonderful, sparkling eyes. I'm a sucker for people with interesting eyes. So instead of just saying, “Hey gram’, cancel unit #380, I’m outta here,” I just had to sit down and chat. I told her I’d moved into a house with a garage and didn’t need the shed anymore.
“Oh, I’m getting ready to move too,” she said excitedly. And I thought to myself, “...to a nursing home?” but I did not say that. I said, "Moving?"
Turns out she used to live down the coast in Destin, but moved to Pensacola a couple of years ago. First she lived west of town, out on Escambia Bay. But she didn’t like that so she moved into town proper. But now she was moving again, back to Destin, to a little house right next door to her church, and right close by the bed-and-breakfast that her daughter owns. Rather than being depressed, she seemed surprisingly enthusiastic and optimistic about the prospect of packing up and moving again (something I detest). Then she told me about her church and after that, her daughter’s B&B.
As she rambled on, I glanced over at Gene. He was standing, staring out one of the windows of the office. And even though he had his back to us I could tell he was rolling his eyes impatiently.
Me, I love talking to people. Everyone has a story to tell. It usually does not take much prodding to get people to tell it. You just have to ask, and appear to be interested in what they have to say – something you cannot fake. And while these stories are not always fascinating, not always exciting, sometimes they are very. And in any case, they are fascinating and exciting to the speaker. To him or her, it is the most important story in the world. And so it is to me too.
After a while we drove away from the storage shed place and the old woman with the sparkling eyes and happy face. “You always do that,” Gene said, rather testily. “You always get people talking.” Typically he does not engage people in conversation. He’s just not a talker.
I laughed. It wasn’t like we had anything else pressing to do just then. What was the harm in spending five or ten minutes listening to someone talk about their life? (Okay, fifteen minutes, so sue me.) Maybe it was the only real conversation the woman had that day. Hey, she sits in that little office and the few people who do drive in and out probably don’t stop to chat. In all the time I’ve had that shed, I may have stopped in once in addition to the time I rented it.
It seems that nowadays we scurry around, rushing from place to place, always in a hurry, with little time to just...talk...to one another. No time. We’d rather phone or text or IM or leave a message on Facebook.
Connecting electronically is not really connecting at all. Personally, I love interactions with real people, however brief or fleeting.
You could go through life without ever touching people in a meaningful way, but it would be a lonely, dismal existence. So talk to people! Let them know that their story is important...that they are important. Why? Because most people are interesting and deserve to be heard. Not only that, but someday, maybe someone will be interested in hearing your story. And you know what? You deserve to tell it too. If I'm around, you can tell it to me.