By Kenneth Justice
~ A few mornings ago as I sat outside the train station waiting to depart for my weekend in Chicago a young man walked directly over to me and put his hand out to shake, “Hello, my name is Jose. Could you tell me if this is the train to Chicago?” he said
I’ve never been asked to shake hands with a stranger who was asking me for travel information but I obliged him. “Is this your first time going to Chicago I asked?”
“No, I’ve just never taken the train there and I’m really excited!” he said, “I’m meeting up with my cousin who is on holiday from Spain and my sister who goes to college in Wisconsin. We’re going to have a blast at all the St. Patrick’s Day festivities!”
Jose is only in his early 20’s but is a seasoned world traveler. His mother being from Spain and his father from Mexico, they met in college here in the Midwest and Jose has dual citizenship between the U.S. & Spain.
“I just love Spain so much!” he said, “Ya don’t have to have money to hang out with people there. You can just walk down the street and meet strangers and soon they will be your friends inviting you over for wine or coffee” he said.
If I didn’t know better I would have felt someone was playing a cruel trick on me; the things Jose was talking about appeared to be identical to subjects about community and culture that I’ve written about ad nauseum throughout the past year.
When I told him about my coffee house tour Jose got a big smile on his face, “That’s so cool man, I know exactly what you’re talking about” he said, “When I visit my relatives in Spain they are always so jealous of the United States; they love Hollywood, and high-paying jobs, and fast cars. But they don’t realize that our level of community here in the States is so far behind what they have. It’s like you can’t win, because there aren’t enough jobs in Spain for me to move there, but to live here I have to miss out on the community atmosphere of Spanish Europe” he said
We’d arrived a half-hour early to the train station so for the next thirty minutes Jose and I talked about a bunch of different things, from his varied experiences traveling throughout Spain to what he hoped to accomplish with his life following college.
Jose is not the first stranger to randomly walk over to me or sit down at my table and strike up a conversation with me; yet each time a total stranger engages me in a conversation like this I’m almost always struck with how friendly people can be and the simple truth; men and women want to connect.
Being a Christian I’m well versed in the history of Western Christianity and know that attending worship services used to be a major aspect of local community. Writing in the early 20th century, the famous children’s author Laura Ingalls Wilder mentioned in one of her books how important it was for her and her husband to choose a church to attend after moving into a new city, “Because finding the right church is an important facet of us being able to connect with our neighbors” she said [my paraphrase].
Unfortunately, many people often complain to me that church community isn’t much deeper than 3 minute conversations and hand-shakes, “I get more fellowship with the regulars I see at the coffee shop each week then I do at church” said a good friend of mine yesterday
Jose was a generally nice dude. It took a lot of guts for him to walk straight up to me and put his hand out for me to shake; I could of looked at him as though he were a leper and blew him off….but of course I didn’t. Perhaps he sensed something in my eyes that told him I would be a good candidate to talk with, or maybe he’s such an all-around nice human being that he looks for the good in all people.
Ultimately, I wish there were more Jose’s in the world. When I read NEWS stories about people being robbed or beat up in plain sight; surrounded by passerby’s who simply turn a blind eye to the evil before them. Maybe if there were more Jose’s in the world community wouldn’t feel so stifled and forced.
Sadly, I fear that most of the time I’m oblivious to the world around me. For every conversation I have with a stranger in public; I’m probably spending twice as much time glued to my computer screen typing away……completely ignorant of my surroundings and the people who walk by my coffee table.
Admittedly, we can’t talk to everyone and we can’t save the world. As much as I’d like to cry with every person who’s suffering from a broken heart; at a certain point I have to distance myself in order to live my own life. I’ve never been really good at finding balance; where do I draw the line between being open to engage with strangers over a cup of coffee, and knowing when it’s time for me to be by myself.
When I first came up with the idea of my Drinking in the Culture Tour I honestly didn’t expect the kind of response I’ve received. It’s been three months since I first announced the tour and in that short time span I’ve received over 1000 emails and messages from readers and bloggers who have offered me a place to stay, meals, and even transportation when I’m in town. As much as I complain about the potential death of community; at least in the blogging world community seems to be alive and well.
Just a few thoughts as I sipped my coffee this morning,
If you live in the Pittsburgh area I’d love to meet you! I’ll be there in 8 days! Let’s have coffee.
Categories: Culture & Society