Although I have lived in the big city of Toronto for nearly half my life now, I did grow up in a small town in Ontario. It was a small enough town that everyone knew your name – or at least they do when your Dad is the Mayor of said town. Everyone knew my sisters and I. If we had a party while the parents were out of town, kids would come from our school and the neighbouring ones to join in and our parents knew about it every single time. I was also the type of teenager that got involved in things. I was on school council, I played rec soccer in the summer, I wrote for a newspaper that was created by Farley Mowat in protest of Conrad Black and I was on committees in the town. I was involved and as a result, I knew people and I knew that when you lived in a place like this, you talked to those people. You were friendly. I remember after moving to Toronto and coming home for a visit one weekend. My youngest sister, who still lived at home at the time, and I went for a walk along the waterfront trail. We came across a couple with their dog and my sister said hi to them while I said nothing. As soon as they passed my sister hissed at me, “You’re so RUDE! Toronto has changed you.”
The thing is, it had. I was attending University in the very heart of the downtown core of the largest city in Toronto and was surrounded constantly by a bustle of people. I really had changed, I had stopped noticing that they were actually individuals moving about in their lives. I just saw them as bodies. As noise.
Since then, I have made a point of talking to strangers. I know that when you are a kid, your parents teach you to avoid them but I am going to argue against that. I am not encouraging you to give out all of your personal information including your home address and SIN but I am encouraging you to open up a little more to the people around you. Some of the best people in my life are those that were once strangers who I was open enough to one day talk to. Some of these people have become some of my closest friends and some of these people have lasted mere minutes in my life. But I believe from every encounter there can be a lesson. We can learn so much from listening to other people’s stories and from asking them questions.
A couple of weeks ago I had a medical appointment and through asking questions, I discovered that the technician was only twenty-six and that he had once traveled to Spain with his friends. I’m sure after I left, he thought, “Why did I tell her that stuff?” but I left knowing that I was able to pull a little bit of realness out of him and that that was pretty cool. It’s fun. And it’s sometimes a challenge. You will meet people who are closed off and who do not want to share but it’s still fun to prod them a little to see what they will talk to you about. Recently I tried to spark up a conversation with a girl working at a local tea shop. I told her a story about how we went to buy some tea from them only to discover that they had closed up that location and moved to one that was much closer to home. I thought it was a funny story, she just looked at me as though I was from another planet. So I did what I do best, and kept awkwardly talking to her until my transaction was done. Josh and I laughed about it afterwards as I imagined her sighing with relief when the door shut behind us. I cannot wait to go back to prod her a little more.
I believe though that she is an odd duck in this and that truthfully, everyone out there is looking to have a conversation. Everyone has a story and it’s often one that is just waiting to be shared. So chat up that girl working the makeup corner at the drugstore or the guy making cocktails behind the bar. Chat up the homeless person on the street. Ask them questions. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their day. About how they got there. And then really listen to the answers. There are small lessons to be learned in all of them.