I’ve been replaying this memory in my head.
A while back, someone walked up to me weeks after we’d met and said “You may not remember me…”
I was stunned, absolutely speechless. I just kept quiet and went along with it. The whole time this person was talking and reminding me of that first introduction (one that was relatively significant), all that kept rolling through my mind was, Do you… do you actually think you could be so easily forgotten?
Looking back, I wish I had grabbed their shoulders, stared straight in their eyes and said, “You are better than multiple introductions given with a shaky voice, and thinking someone wouldn’t remember your golden smile.”
But those aren’t things we say to people, especially not on our second interaction. We smile politely and ask about their hometown, career, or where they went to college. We don’t drown them in words of value from the first second. We just go through the motions and keep to ourselves all the things we immediately love about them.
We restrain ourselves. We’re always holding back. We’re always trying to do what’s proper, because reservation has become synonymous with dignity. But when did hesitancy and suppression become virtues? Who decided that it was unbecoming to exuberantly and extravagantly tell someone how wonderful they are as soon as you meet them?
I met some amazing people over the weekend and it shook me.
It happened after I was thrown into a room of middle-aged parents, people who are in entirely different stages of life than I am. And there I was, trying to hold myself together. I didn’t want to speak too loudly, express myself too extravagantly. I wanted to appear poised and collected.
And then suddenly, sitting across from two complete strangers I started to yell, “Where did you come from? You are my people! You’re amazing! I love you!”
For a second, I felt exposed and childlike. I felt like I had just belched at a banquet table in The White House.
Until their faces spread into the widest grins. They laughed and both gave me strong, lengthy hugs and words of equal affirmation.
It was then that I realized that no other words could have been more valuable, more remarkable. I had in one swift outburst, burned the bridge of detachment that I had always been told was mature and professional upon meeting someone.
I immediately went back to that memory I’d been mulling over and whole-heartedly wished I had handled it in that same manner. I wished that I would have grabbed that person, the one who had put on a name-tag that said Stranger. Oh, that I would have excitedly pulled them in and called them Known.
We keep letting people in our lives label themselves Stranger. We wait…sometimes months, sometimes years. After numerous surface-level interactions, we might then graduate to a casual compliment or vocally acknowledge their value. We give nods and half smiles, feeling uncomfortable to go beyond that. We don’t know them, after all. It would be weird to say something of actual consequence.
But how odd it is that we have to give ourselves pep-talks to interact with people we see daily, weekly, monthly. Isn’t it disheartening that using terms of endearment for other humans takes years, when using them for pets is an instant reaction.
We generously use our most meaningful and affirming words on puppies or kittens, but hold them back for years from the people across the street or down the hall.
Our craving to appear impressive and eloquent leads us to being neither. I’m learning that there’s nothing impressive about my holding back from others my pure and joyful adoration for them, the delight I feel when they are simply themselves. Even if I’ve only known them a few short moments.
The world has enough dignified people who paint inside the lines, fold their hands, and craft their words. What the world really needs are the finger-painters who might make a mess, but whose words are ones of love unrehearsed and love unreserved.