Tonight, I participated in a great event organized by Kate Collins, a Ph.D. candidate in Art Education who is teaching an undergraduate class focused on the intersection of art, community, and dialog. I had been to a couple small events she had organized as part of the class, but tonight was the culminating event. No details were given other than the name “Talk to Strangers,” so I didn’t know what to expect.
I arrived in a manicured downtown park on the river to find balloons, laughter, music, and popcorn. It was like a child’s birthday party, Kate explained, knowing we’d all been to one at some point in our lives and probably remembered it fondly. But we all learned something else as children, she continued, that we carried forward into our adult lives: “Don’t Talk to Strangers.” But tonight was to be different. We were to pick someone out of the crowd to walk with along a trail across the river and back and talk – or more importantly to listen to what the other had to say.
I looked around the crowd for someone “safe” to hang out with for the walk, but that wasn’t really the point, was it? I found myself face to face with a woman who was also seeking a partner for the stroll and, given that we were both wearing denim jackets, we figured fate put us together. But she wasn’t someone I wanted to get to know. Not because she looked mean or smelled bad or anything like that. It was because she was beautiful, and as someone who doesn’t consider herself in that same category, I prefer to think of beautiful people as shallow and unworthy of my time. Getting to know them spoils that illusion. Nevertheless, Patty and I were now a team.
We set off on our trek across the bridge in easy conversation. Very easy. In less than a block, we’d learned that in the past few years we’d both lost our mothers who’d been vibrant women until the end and that we’d both recently gone through serendipitous career changes. And the conversation flowed from there, moving from the simple social topics of our backgrounds and where we lived to the deeper ones about the revelations that came from the loss of our mothers, to the “whiteness” of certain areas of town, to the importance of human connections. Along the way, we stopped and took pictures for a family that was in town for a convention, framing them against the backdrop of the Columbus skyline. We arrived back at the park to a party of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches, dancing, and new friends.
No burning social issues were resolved tonight, nor did we achieve world peace. But true connections were made – human beings reaching out to other human beings and listening to them exist. I’m glad I met Patty tonight. She reminded me that knowing people and interacting with them in positive, meaningful ways is what life is about. And we all could spend more time learning what we have in common rather than focusing what separates us.
Talk to Strangers. It was a beautiful event. Thanks, Kate.