Have you ever felt like you were not a part of something; that the world surrounding you, whether neighborhood or larger community, was an unknown and you yourself an unknown? Well, welcome to my world. Growing up a Navy brat, we moved a lot and even though we settled in San Diego in 1961, the moving around years marked me as always feeling like an outsider. Then as an adult moving around in California, that feeling continued. When you come from a place but move around a lot within it, you find you have no history to bring to the table that anyone else might relate to.
Fortunately, my kids didn’t grow up that way. They were surrounded by an uncle and grandparents and a stable school and church community. There is a lot to be said for roots, for building history in a place, for leaving but always returning or, never leaving at all. I didn’t understand the attractions of living in a small world until I moved here. And by moving here, I discovered, at the tender age of pushing 70, that I had actually found a place I could call home. No one could have been more surprised than me.
I have precious memories of my life in California, mainly wrapped up in my love for a few good friends that while now distant, are still close and dear to me. I arrived here anxious and not a little fearful. The people and touchstones that gave my life form and shape were clearly going to be missing and I had absolutely no history attached to this place; I only had a series of well-spaced visits of short duration. But it was here that I discovered that there are no strangers. Back in my California life, people didn’t talk easily to each other outside of their own group. People, in general, were superficially friendly and fairly guarded. If you smiled at someone, that’s all you did. Then you quickly looked away.
And then I landed here, in this small town that felt like the end of the earth and the dominant feeling I felt almost immediately was a feeling of acceptance. People were curious about us. What were we doing here, of all places? My pirate was easily explained. He had come home, but, what about me? I heard a lot of folks saying, “you must really be feeling culture shock.” Well, yes, I really was feeling it. But then, almost like magic, within three months I felt happy and genuinely content. I wasn’t a stranger and I was genuinely interested in everyone I met. I wanted to discover who they were and be ready to remember them the next time I saw them and believe me, in a small town, you always see someone again. So suddenly I found that the smile that hid quickly in California was here followed up by a hello and sooner or later, an introduction. I found myself so comfortable talking with complete strangers that a kind of hyper-awareness enveloped me. I find myself talking to people everywhere.
This week I’m in Fairview, TN outside of Nashville. Our daughter just had her third child and first girl. We are very happy but it was in this setting that I expanded my potential for connecting with people. Nashville is no small town but I met a frightened and very pregnant woman at the hospital and she was alone. I was able to sit with her for a while and distract her from her anxiety until she could finally connect up with her family. And today I met a young military woman, full-time Army National Guard. We were waiting for food to go and I’m never one to ignore a uniform so we got to talking. Lord, I’m sure glad we did. She and my husband shared the same MOS. She was AGR like him. AND, they were in the same sort of unit – drug interdiction. You could have knocked me over with a feather. Of course, she would have never volunteered that but I mentioned his work and that opened another door.
I’m convinced, now in my golden years, that there really are no strangers and I am determined to meet as many people as possible. There is nothing to fear from people. Yes, there are fearsome people; a lot of them, actually. But, I prefer to see them as human beings who, like everyone else, just need a smile and a hello.