Between Strangers

Between Strangers

I’m back on the road again, this time for a very quick trip. I’m enjoying a couple of relaxed days in Vancouver; short but sweet. It’s nice being back in a big city again, within walking distance of shops, coffee spots, convenience stores, and people. All kinds of people.

For an introvert, I sure do like being around people a lot, I’m just not great at interacting with them. My partner, John, finds conversing with total strangers as easy as with people he’s known for years.

It’s a gift that I’m endlessly amazed by and envious of. I think I’m what’s called a social introvert; I function just fine in social settings but I recharge alone. It’s not unusual for me to accept an invitation and then immediately regret it. I can have what may outwardly seem like a relaxed conversation with a stranger but I am consistently struggling to think of what to say next, and how to engage. Sound familiar? I think there are way more of us out there than it may seem.

Introvert Out

Last night at one of my favourite Vancouver restaurants, I was happy and comfortable sitting at the bar. The bar is always where the action is in any restaurant and it gives you great insight into how the place operates and the vibe of the staff. The bonus is watching bartenders dance around each other while they prepare their concoctions, rarely if ever bumping or stepping on each other’s toes. I love it. I believe eating at a bar is the ideal place for anyone eating solo and for anyone who struggles with any form of social anxiety as I do. You’re not alone but you’re also not obliged to engage at all if you’re not up to it. The show goes on around you.

Eating at a bar usually means you’ll see people come and go as they have a drink while waiting for their tables or to move on to their next destination. Last night was no different. What was different is that I noticed a woman seated three seats away from me with an elderly couple between us. She was gesturing to the bartender that she was finished her meal but said nothing. I started to pay attention and soon concluded she might be deaf.

A Conversation Between Strangers

Way, way back in the day, I worked at a school for the blind which also had a deaf-blind division. For three years I worked first with the deaf-blind students at the school and then in a group home operating for when they graduated. And in that time, I learned Signing Exact English, a form of sign language specifically for the deaf-blind. It’s more detailed than American Sign Language but the fundamentals of the two forms are the same.

So, I stretched back into the far reaches of my memory and started signing to this woman across the bar. Her face lit up and we engaged in a rudimentary, slow-paced conversation. She was wonderfully patient as I fumbled with my spelling and I’m sure messed up many of the words I was trying so hard to remember. She was gracious in her responses and we carried on our friendly conversation without disturbing a soul around us or between us.

What I found interesting upon reflection, is that I felt none of the social anxiety I usually feel when talking to strangers. Maybe it was because my mind was busy trying to remember basic words, I don’t know, but what a relief it was. Just talking. I hope she felt some comfort in connecting with someone else amid strangers, too. How brave she must be. And in her bravery, she was generous and lovely.

As soon as she left, I felt the anxiety return just a bit and I was sad to have ended our brief encounter. But she left me with a welcome reminder that regardless of how awkward you may feel, you’re not alone. Sometimes all it takes to connect is a smile.

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