The Dangers of an Over-Sharing Public

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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.

Sigh.

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?

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