My teenage daughter is thoroughly embarrassed by my inclination to chat with strangers as we go about our errands. “You don’t have to talk to everyone who passes by,” she grouched at me as we waited in front of the movie theater for her friend to arrive. Still, I find these friendly conversations have a positive effect on my life. Recently, two of the people who I see regularly– at the coffee shop and the copy shop– made my day. Coincidentally, both of these people are named Jim.
The first Jim is the manager of the Starbucks nearest to my kids’ school. Sometimes I hang out there, nursing a latte and scribbling in my writer’s notebook, while I wait for afternoon carpool to begin. Jim, who is also a writer, once noticed me working and struck up a conversation. He is a big, gentle bear of a man. Last week I told him that a publisher was interested in reading my manuscript, and he shook my hand so hard I was left breathless. Jim’s agent is trying to get him a movie deal for one of his books. I can’t wait to bear-hug him when he shares his good news with me.
The second Jim is a customer service rep at the neighborhood Office Max. Between teaching, writing and pottery, I have a lot of photocopying needs, so I spend a lot time there. In fact, I have already been there 3x this week. On Monday, when I went in to ask about binding the manuscript, I was surprised that Jim wasn’t there to help me. I discovered he was scheduled for the afternoon shift this week. “Well, tell him I stopped by to see him,” I told Robin. Later that day, when I was juggling several canvas bags filled with yummy treats from Trader Joe’s and thinking about my nice chat with the man in the checkout line, a tall man called to me, “Hey, there! How have you been?” It was Jim! I told him about missing him that morning at Office Max and about finishing the manuscript. I almost dropped my bags as congratulated me with a hug.
I think that married adults shy away from touching folks who are not our spouses and children. It’s too bad, actually. A friendly hug can communicate support more effectively than words. As I move to the next stage of the publishing process, feeling so uncertain of success and occasionally lonely in my new existence as a writer, I find that my optimism and perseverance are bolstered by my two Jims. I am grateful for our many ways they cheer me on and brighten my daily existence. Technically, they are no longer strangers to me — but only because I consider running errands an opportunity to connect with others in my community.