I board the greyhound bus and quickly find a seat next to the window. As the bus fills up, a man takes the seat next to me. He is Hispanic, middle-aged, with a gold chain around his neck. Out of the corner of my eye I assess him....looks harmless enough with one arm in a cast.
The bus heads out of the station onto I-40 towards Nashville and I find myself having an argument in my head. I want to connect with my seat partner. I want to say something to break the awkward silence of riding next to each other for 3 hours. But maybe he doesn't want to talk. And I'm fighting all the advice about traveling: "Don't talk to strangers. Don't put yourself at risk. Be safe." Especially as I feel like I have the words "Single Young Woman Traveling Alone," plastered across my forehead. That is the one deal-breaker that I get warned about all the time.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I push those boundaries of "be safe." But I'm also a shy person. That's pretty much fact. I sit back and feel more comfortable having people approach and talk to me first. But if I compare my shyness to back in elementary school, high school, or even the first few years of college -- I can see my progression to becoming more and more willing to break that outer shell and approach people.
Alas, I succumb to social norms and hunker down in my seat, making sure to give Mr. gold chain his bubble of space that is expected in Western countries. Halfway through our trip, the bus makes a stop to pick up more passengers. Most people leave the bus to walk around and run into the gas station convenience store. I decide to just keep my seat. Soon we're off again, Mr. gold chain sits down and we continue on our silent way. Suddenly, though, he turns to me and offers me some gum that he had just bought. Not just one, but TWO pieces, because "them things are just too small to give enough chew." I accept the gum and suddenly the social wall is broken! We chat about where we're heading, about the Oklahoma tornadoes near his destination, about my experience responding to the Alabama tornado in 2011... Kudos to Mr. gold chain for breaching the wall!!
Later, as I debark the bus, I'm determined to not wait for the other person to break the silence next time. So many connections that never happen because of the walls I put up.
It's true that there are probably sketchy people out there...like the bus driver who was singing in whispers over the bus intercom (maybe more odd than sketchy). But does that make them any less of a person to talk to and be worth connecting with? Why let fear dictate what we do?
So I've spent all day in Nashville putting this thought on trial today and how FUN it has been! Definitely got me out of my comfort zone a bit. I exited the greyhound station in an interesting area of Nashville...took off on foot through the thunderstorm dropping elephant raindrops on me, chatted with some construction workers who pointed me in the direction of downtown and coffeeshops. Had a great time wandering the streets and seeing what it was like to smile ear-to-ear at everyone I passed instead of the usual, avoidance look down. Entered the Doubletree hotel and wandered their nice lounges and pretending like I had a room there -- ran into another hotel "poser" and we had a great time exploring the ballrooms together. Chatted for a while with a policeman on where I needed to catch the public bus to the airport. And just finished a delightful conversation with an elderly lady at the airport who was selling hats. I told her about my future travels to the Philippines as a missionary and she promptly took a rubber bracelet off her wrist that states, "I AM SECOND," telling me that it would be a good reminder for me to have with me over there.
“Do stuff. be clenched, curious. Not waiting for inspiration's shove or society's kiss on your forehead. Pay attention. It's all about paying attention. attention is vitality. It connects you with others. It makes you eager. stay eager.” ― Susan Sontag