People confide in me all the time. They tell me secrets that frequently shock me to my core. Strangers tell me their thoughts, beliefs, and dreams. I don’t know why this is true, but it is. As long as I can remember, I’ve been the recipient of over-sharing from perfect strangers. It’s not my fault! Trust me: I’m not asking these people actual questions.
This drives my family and friends crazy. They worry I will invite a serial killer in for a glass of sweet tea. I’d like to say I would never do that, but, unfortunately, I might, in fact, do exactly that. I wish I could change this about myself. I don’t want to be the Statue of Liberty for Lonely Hearts! I’m not educated for it, and it frightens me.
In the D-Day museum in New Orleans, I was the only one on the tour who got cornered by a mentally ill veteran for a heart-to-heart. On park benches, I hear about tales of infidelity from people I’ve never in my life met before that moment. In elevators, I hear about illness and doctor visits from people whose only contact with me is a few seconds descent to basement parking! In stadium seats, I’m treated to office politics and misbehaving teenagers from mere acquaintances. On a prayer bench, I’ve overhead desperate prayers from a stranger kneeling next to me and clasped her hands when she reached out to me.
Why me? Apparently, I have a blinking light over my head that says: If you’re crazy, suicidal, pissed in paisley, or in need of a friend, step right up and take a number!
I’m not a counselor. I’m not even naturally gregarious or people-friendly. Mostly, I find people exhausting. I am loyal to my inner circle, have had the same friends for most of my life, and, honestly, I like it like this. I tend to my friendship gardens. I don’t have enough time for the friends I have, so I’m not looking to recruit for my posse. Still, they keep coming like bodies in a zombie movie.
I can’t navigate the deep waters of the human psyche. Furthermore, I have no desire to do so. Nevertheless, I find myself listening to hair-raising tales of misfortune, woe, and loss a couple of times a week. What’s with that?
I don’t know how to make it stop. I’m Southern. I’m female. Culturally, I’m programmed to be polite, nice, and gracious–no matter the circumstances. I’ve risked my life on many occasions when I couldn’t quite bring myself to slam the door in someone’s face, hang up the telephone on an unsolicited sales call, or refuse to roll my car window down when a panhandler bangs on it demanding money. All three of these things happened this week, just FYI. I’m not kidding.
Of course, I know it’s dangerous to put myself—and kids in my car—out there like that. I can see all that clearly after the fact, but if somebody tells me, “I’m hungry,” I believe deep down that my job is to feed ‘em. Literally. Figuratively. Whatever.
Where are the lines between busybody, enabler, potential crime victim, and regular people? To me, they’re blurry. I can’t see them clearly. Can you? Am I my sister’s keeper or a naïve idiot?
I can’t decide. Until I do, I guess I’ll continue to keep dollar bills in the outside pocket of my purse so I can get to them quickly, and I’ll keep telling my daughter not to do what she sees me do when I walk out of the grocery store and hand the homeless man on the bench a Gatorade on the way to my car with $300 worth of groceries in my buggy.
Sometimes, I can’t figure out my role in the world.
How about you?