Wednesday, October 7, 2015
Yesterday I returned the rental car. My kids, who were fascinated by all of the buttons and gadgets on the Ford Fiesta, were disappointed. "Why can't we buy a new car like this one?"
"Because my old car is paid off, that's why," I replied. Besides, I never could figure out what all of the buttons on the rental car was for and there was no manual in the glove box for me to even try.
I knew when I dropped the rental car off that I would have to get someone from Enterprise to drive me to the body shop to pick up my car. Being introverted and shy by nature, I normally dread this. The idea of having to spend ten minutes with a complete stranger in a vehicle, making small talk (something I find awkward and extremely uncomfortable), was something that I tried to avoid. I have often sat in the barber's chair, getting a haircut and said nothing unless spoken to. But as I drove the rental car to Enterprise, I asked myself, "Why?"
No, they would use this opportunity to be a witness to a complete stranger. Why wouldn't I do that, too? Because I'm not them. For years, I have avoided such moments by bringing a book with me, thereby avoiding chit-chat by reading. I have taken a book with me to many social gatherings over the years and snuck off to some quiet corner to enjoy the company of literary people over real ones. And yet, in recent years, I have felt compelled to stop doing this and engage with others. It is not always easy for more - or successful. Each failure has caused me to doubt myself and wonder if I shouldn't return to the warm, safe confines of the pages of a book.
Now, when I dropped off the rental car, I did not have a book to retreat into, but I did have my smartphone, by which I could check e-mail, Facebook, or other important social media. I owed this driver nothing - right? He probably would prefer not to have to enter into conversation too, right?
Yet, when I got into the van, I silently prayed, Help me to be open to this moment.
As we pulled off the lot, I surprised myself by asking him how long he had been driving for them. Then I commented on how his job must be affected by the personality of the person he was driving. He told me that he didn't let the passenger determine his day. If the passenger was irritable or complaining, he would just nod in agreement, but that most people were pretty nice.
How many of us care? Do we think about how our attitude can influence or affect that of another person, especially those in the field of service (waitress, cashier, clerk, teller). Do we think about how a smile or a kind word or simply asking them how they are doing might be what they need in that moment?
I didn't talk about myself. I focused on him. Asked him questions about his life, found out about his family, and just took the time to see him as a person and not just as a driver who was there to get me from point A to point B. In her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography, Kathleen Norris wrote, "True hospitality is marked by an open response to the dignity of each and every person." That is what I wanted to do with this man. And in listening to him talk about himself, I found myself glad that I did. I was accepting this stranger on his own terms and accepted his openness by receiving it as a gift.
Now I don't know if I made his day any better by asking him questions that were asked with the purpose of seeing him, really seeing him, and letting him know that he mattered, even to a stranger he may never see again. Why? Because he was made in the image of God by God. God had us in that van, at that moment in time for a reason. I trusted in this and did not withdraw into myself. God allowed me to be open without feeling like I had depleted something of myself. Instead, I felt enriched by this conversation. I realized it wasn't about me, anyway. It was about being open to what God wants me to be open to. As Henri Nouwen said, "To wait with openness and trust is an enormously radical attitude toward life." Indeed it is. And this introvert will try to approach life with more of this openness.