I have written before about my penchant for engaging strangers and distant acquaintances in conversation. I especially delight in favorable reactions to my inquisitiveness and sense of humor.
My targets are very often individuals who appear withdrawn, troubled or to be struggling with a handicap of some kind. Elderly folks, of course, are some of my favorites. It is my premise that people are often lonely or worse yet, ignored in life, and that they welcome someone caring enough to pass the time of day with them. If I can prompt a chuckle, even better.
Wendy is a high-functioning challenged young woman in her late 30's or early 40's. She works four-hour shifts cleaning tables at our local Tim Hortons. She is shy and reserved and very difficult to strike up a conversation with. I have been working on her for the better part of two years. She now asks "how are you?" without me taking the initiative to acknowledge her as she rushes past me with a floor mop or her hands full of used cups and plates.
Sitting at one of her tables, I have learned the hard way not to take my hand off a coffee cup until I have savored that good to the last drop, otherwise eagle-eyed Wendy will scoop it up right from under you. I've teased her about her efficiency and she is quick to remind me that it is her job to keep the tables clean. She rarely looks you in the eye or stops at your table for more than a couple of seconds.
On a catch-as-catch-can basis, I have learned about her mother and the self-contained subsidized apartment that she now lives in. I have discovered that she has a sweet tooth and sometimes leave a tip for her to buy her favorite double chocolate donut when she gets off work. Not long ago, I asked her what she did with her time after she got off work and without hesitation she replied..."take it easy!"
I picked Wendy out of a church group photograph in the newspaper recently and that prompted me to talk about it with her yesterday when I dropped in for a morning coffee. "Do you go to church regularly?" I asked as she hurried past where I was sitting. "Yes" she said without looking back.
It was a good five minutes before she came my way again and I positioned my chair so that she would have to at least slow down and side-step me. It just so happened that my coffee cup was empty by then and I held it out for her, giving me a chance to ask a strategic question: "Why do you go to church Wendy?"
I craned my neck to look up at her standing just behind my left shoulder. My eyes came directly in contact with hers for perhaps the first time. There was a pause and I could almost hear the wheels turning in Wendy's mind. With a hint of a smile as she studiously looked down at me, the soft-spoken words "because I believe in God" slowly came out of her mouth.
"Good for you Wendy. That is exactly the answer I was looking for!" I enthusiastically responded as she busily dumped a tray of paper cups and food wraps into a nearby trash bin. "And you know what?...God believes in you too!"
I was never more proud of anyone. There was still a lump in my throat as I pulled my truck out of the parking lot minutes later.
Wendy was not on duty when I went back to Tim's this morning. Maybe I'll see her tomorrow. I've got more questions to ask her.