It happened years ago, a chance encounter on an airport escalator that lasted for only a few moments. But I’ve never forgotten it. I hope I never will.
My husband and I had cleared security and were on our way to the gate, leaving Las Vegas, our home at the time, to fly to California to visit family.
He’d gotten ahead of me, as he often does when in a rush, and I was wondering exactly how long it would take him to miss me.
Finally, at the top of the escalator, he looked down and saw I was just getting on it.
I waved and called “Meet you at the gate!” Then I turned to smile at a man behind me. He looked like a visitor, not a local.
“Did you have fun in Vegas?” I asked. I like to ask questions of strangers on escalators. The answers are always interesting. But this one broke my heart.
The man looked in my eyes, as if weighing how much to tell me. Then he poured out this story.
He had come to Vegas to visit an old friend he’d not seen since they broke up, just before he left to be a pilot in World War II.
“I’d told her not to wait for me. So she married someone else. I went to see her this week because she’s dying. I should have married her 50 years ago.”
I’m not sure what I said to him. I hugged him, which wasn’t easy on an escalator. Then we went our separate ways.
My husband was watching. I told him the story. He said, “He told you that on an escalator?”
“I think he needed to tell someone,” I said. “And I asked.”
Sometimes one question is all it takes to get a friend or a loved one or a total stranger to open up and tell you what they long to tell someone who will care.
Often, “How are you?” is enough. For someone you don’t know, try, “Where are you from and what brings you here?”
Show you’re interested, then leave it up to them. If they want to talk, they probably will.
Why should you bother?
Well, you shouldn’t, really, unless you care. If you care, that’s reason enough.
We all have different gifts.
My husband, for example, is a great editor, a gifted musician and a really good grandpa. Me? I’m pretty good at getting people to talk. My kids claim I wear a sign on my back that says, “Confess.” I love to get people to talk. Maybe you do, too?
Here’s another story I hope I’ll never forget. I was 21, newly married to a rookie teacher, on our way to a faculty party, where I would know no one but him.
I’d spent hours getting ready, doing my hair and makeup, changing my mind on what to wear a dozen times, only to look (I realized going out the door) no better than I ever did.
I’d be meeting people who were smarter, richer and better educated than I was. I wanted to make a good impression. I kept asking myself, what on Earth will they think of me? The answer came moments before I walked into the party.
I heard a voice. I think it was God, but it sounded a lot like my fifth grade teacher, Mrs. Camp. She often sounded like God.
“You are whole,” it said. “You have all you need. You don’t need to impress. Just be who you are. Ask questions. Listen to the answers. And care.”
Since then, that voice has whispered that same message to me countless times. I tend to forget it, but it always comes back to remind me. The words may vary, but the meaning remains the same:
To be heard, we need first to listen; to be understood, we need first to understand; to be human, we need always to care.
I still talk a lot. Too much sometimes. And I still wonder what people will think of me.
But I try to remember that I am whole, and all I need to do is ask and listen and care. If I forget, the voice reminds me.
So. How are you?
— Sharon Randall can be reached at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove CA 93950, or on her website: sharonrandall.com.