Commonplace

seeking the story in the ordinary

The other morning, I woke to speak with a man I’d never met.

After 13 minutes of failed Google+ attempts, we got through. It was just after 5am and pitch black outside the window above the desk. I curled my legs underneath me as we smiled with relief.

Conversations with strangers are so touching and intimate these days. Maybe it’s simply that any conversation with a stranger, since such conversations are more and more rare, represents something you almost didn’t do.    – Heidi Julavits, The Folded Clock

It was (a shortened version of) this quote that prompted Philip McCluskey, the Thirsty Wanderer, to reach out over Twitter and then suggest we meet for a virtual drink. He does this often. He has drinks with strangers.

The premise is simple, yet stunning: you have a drink and conversation with someone you’ve never met. It need not be alcoholic—we, for example, had coffee.

Screen Shot 2015-10-14 at 5.56.31 AM

He was kind and accommodating and sincere. He says what he thinks and asks good, hard questions. He listens to the answers.

There was a slight (inevitable) awkwardness, and yet a surprising ease to our conversation. Either because of limited time—threatened as we were by the impending wake-up of my youngest son—or his nature, probably both, we got right to the heart of things.

What matters? What do you wish you could tell the world? Did you see yourself ending up where you are?

In the span of an hour, we talked of faith and friendship, religion and travel, parenthood and professions, family and where we’re from. He told of other people he’s met—each had left a mark, I could tell. This is a man who is affected by those who cross his path. We spoke of taking comfort in uncertainty as we grow older, and how writing creates uncommon connections, allows you to be more honest somehow—like in a conversation with a stranger.

As Philip says in his brief video intro to the project, “There is no past with a stranger. And there’s probably not going to be any future either. There’s no broken-in feeling of comfort there, but there’s also less expectation.”

It reminded me of being 17, when I would talk long and late into the night to a red-haired boy named Jon until we’d fall asleep with the phone receivers still pressed between one ear and the pillow. He referenced books I scrambled to read, quoted song lyrics like poetry, and made me question…everything.

Why do we have to stop having these conversations at 20?

I used to wander city streets on Sundays, alone, and strike up conversation with anyone. I once met an actor waiting for his scene in a Jack Nicholson movie they were filming on my corner, an older gentleman riding out his last days in a laundromat, a woman with a thick Russian accent who clerked at the local video store and spiritedly debated me on the meaning of the movies I rented.

But at some point we settle down, get set in our ways. We find our four walls and, for the most part, stay within them. But what if we blurred the line between self and other, between here and elsewhere?

What if any two people, anywhere, could meet and talk?

I let him in to my morning. Still in my pajamas and, at points, with a sleepy two-year-old on my lap. It wasn’t pretty, but it was real.

When I opened the front door for my oldest son to board the school bus later that morning, I lingered a little longer, took in a few gulps of fresh fall air and thought of him, stepping out into his own day. Many miles lay between us, but for a moment, an hour, our paths crossed, our lives ricocheted off each other, and it was as if, particle by particle, a strand stretched across the vast space separating us…

What matters?

What matters, I wanted to say, is this. Exactly this. Connecting with someone else in a sincere way. Breaking down boundaries, seeing one another for who we really are, discarding fear, diminishing distance and difference. Starting with a simple hello, a warm smile, a good morning, it’s nice to meet you.

And going from there…

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16 thoughts on “Coffee with a Stranger

  1. This sounds absolutely wonderful. I love the idea. xox

    1. I do too. I’d been following him before he even reached out to me & loved what he was doing. Right up my alley ;). Thanks for reading, Lindsey. xox

  2. How wonderful that this shifted the air.

  3. Alisa says:

    Wonderful first line! What a fascinating project. And oh my gosh, I too remember the hours and hours of conversations over the phone. I still tend to strike up conversations with strangers- I think I’m nosy? But probably not as often as I used to, or should.We are all so “busy”. But I’m always, always surprised by what strangers will tell you. Love this post, much to think about.

    1. Agreed! Always so unexpectedly fascinating to engage with a perfect stranger. I still try to do so too! Love that you can relate…xox

  4. fascinating, Dina! I really love this idea. We do retreat behind our four walls. I remember the openness of my life in New York, being young and urban and unattached. Everything was open and new. What matters? I’m still thinking about that.

    1. Thanks for adding your thoughts here, Daisy! And yes, that NYC life feels like a far cry from my current reality. Happy to have given you something to think about; my conversation with Philip did the same. xo

  5. Nina Badzin says:

    What an interesting concept!!

    1. Right? Simple and perhaps even obvious, yet so out of the ordinary at the same time…thanks for reading, Nina!

  6. Dakota Nyght says:

    I love this. And the whole idea of “there is no past with a stranger and there’s likely no future,” is poignant and achy and freeing all at the same time – just like Phillip says. I had that experience (in a small way) with my writing class last month, and it is a very odd feeling, to be sure.

    1. Yes! I love that line and the conflicting emotions it conjures. And so true–this writing world, and the virtual extension of it–provides many opportunities for connection with seeming “strangers”…thanks so much for adding your thoughts here, Dakota. xo

  7. What an interesting concept. I mean, online. Because, you’re right, when (and why) did we stop doing this in real life? This line is brilliant: “There is no past with a stranger. And there’s probably not going to be any future either. There’s no broken-in feeling of comfort there, but there’s also less expectation.”

    1. We get older, more withdrawn, we assume we have it all figured out…? It was a great wake-up call. And YES. Love, love that line. Thanks for reading, Sarah! xox

  8. rudrip says:

    Love this, Dina. What an interesting premise for both. I love the unexpected surprises a conversation with a stranger might pull to the surface. It’s as if you are staring at a blank page initially, but then, your conversation fills the space. Thanks for sharing.

    1. What a beautiful analogy. Yes, it is very much like that. With a similar initial trepidation, but then, little by little, the words find their way. Thank you for that lovely image. xo

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