Late Spring 2006
It has long been a joke among my friends and family that I might as well have the words ''Talk to Me'' tattooed across my forehead. I have one of those faces, I guess, that makes perfect strangers spill their darkest fears,
secrets, and most private, personal information to me. I have heard stories of abuse, rape, divorce, illicit affairs, terminal illnesses, death, and crimes committed. I have heard these stories on airplanes, in elevators, on buses, sitting next to someone in a class, waiting in lines, chance encounters while walking my dogs, and once in the back of a taxicab in New York City.
As much as I sometimes want shake my head in wonder at some of the things I hear, I never do. I always take it very seriously and feel a huge responsibility to listen to what is being said and to not make the situation worse for that person. I will ask myself, ''Am I saying the right thing?'' ''What does this person need from me?'' ''Am I really qualified to give advice about this?'' It always ends up being a gut churning experience (on my end) by the time these encounters are over.
Maybe I do have a face or air about me that makes strangers feel comfortable sharing intimate details about their lives, I don't know. But the real question for me is whether it is a sign of these times that people have such a deep need to talk, to feel connected, that they will do so with someone they've never seen before and will never see again.
It always strikes me as remarkable that these people obviously feel they have nowhere else to go, no one else to turn to, and just have to unburden themselves to someone who will listen. You can usually find me with my head buried in a book on an airplane and purposely not making eye contact in public places, but still the stories spill....
I guess I should be grateful that I can be a sounding board for someone. Actually, I am grateful in a guarded sort of way. But still, I find it incredibly sad that apparently these folks have no other safe place to tell their stories. Most of us are going 90 miles an hour these days. The TV seems to be always on, our boss needs us to work overtime, there appears to be less and less time for ourselves, let alone to share with someone close to us. But share we humans must... and sometimes it is with complete strangers.
Is there someone in your life who needs a sympathetic ear, a shoulder to cry on, a safe place to go? I bet there is. If you get the sense that someone you know (or don't know) is suffering and needs a safe refuge, try to be open and accepting. Remember -- lots of times people just need to talk; they aren't looking for you to ''fix'' the problem or give them advice. Maybe this crazy world would be a different place if we all had someone to talk to!