by Neal Lemery
(published in the Tillamook County Pioneer, 3/10/2022
One of the often uncelebrated benefits of living in a small town are the seemingly random and unplanned conversations that occur at the grocery store or the post office.
A recent encounter at the post office turned into a deep and motivating conversation about how we help others by offering words of motivation and guidance. We shared the thought that just plain “paying attention” talk with someone who is struggling is sometimes life changing.
“It is just as simple as a few kind words, and some gentle expectation that someone can better themselves,” my friend said.
Small town life allows us to have these deep conversations, often with people we haven’t been connected to. That post office sidewalk conversation allowed both of us to share commonalities, to be better friends.
“I don’t have time for this?” I can say to myself. But, isn’t a small contribution to some social peace, to a person’s wellbeing worth a few minutes of my time? Checking off my “to do” list really isn’t all that important. Maybe the list needs a line item for “care for others today”.
What is our true work? Isn’t it nurturing the connections, weaving the fabric of community, the offering of support and comfort? I’m often overwhelmed by the rips and tears in the social cloth, the diseases of loneliness, despair, indifference, and depression. We often see the symptoms, yet often don’t focus on working on the cures. The remedies, the prescriptions for civil betterment are all around us, and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to access those and apply them to the maladies that are right in front of our faces.
Time, concern, relationship, and empathy are all in our first aid kits. We can be listeners and cheerleaders. Our life experiences have given us the knowledge and the tools to help others. We often forget what we know and what we can do to bind up the wounds of others, and to bring them into the heart of the community.
I can make time for these side conversations, the casual encounters. Those moments are often the treasures of the day, the gold in my life. If I don’t make the time to stop and chat, I’m cheating myself. I’m missing out on what could be a life changing encounter, or experiencing the germination of profound ideas. Isn’t that worth ten minutes of my time?
It is a two way street. Often, that casual encounter, that deepening of connection, boosts me, becoming part of my self-care plan for the day, opening up a door to help me move ahead on a problem, to grow as a person. Looking back on life, I often see the beginning of the needed change, the fresh insight, started with a few words on the street corner or the grocery store aisle.
Someone cared about me and stopped to talk, changing my life.
I’m a believer that encounters and good conversations are usually not random, but an essential piece of the work of the Universe to bring us together, in a place where the sparks can fly and fresh ideas can take off. At the post office, I mailed a letter, picked up my mail, and deepened a relationship with a friend. My task today is to pay attention, and to give space to allow that to happen, to be willing to grow. And, to be a force for change and healing, both for myself and the community.