Strangers always become stories

This weekend, while making a random shopping trip, I was approached by a store employee, asking if I needed help with anything.

"No thanks, just looking," I said, though I still made polite conversation about why I'd wanted the product I was looking at.

I was left alone after that, for all of 30 seconds. Another employee, same process. It wasn't 30 seconds before I got a third employee.

Another customer was getting the same treatment, and we had our own conversation about the difference between, "Can I help you?" and "Can I make some commission?"

I never introduced myself to the fellow customer. As she was waiting on the arrival of what turned out to be a mutual friend, it's clear that she won't always be a stranger.

But it always seems like it's the conversations with strangers that stand out the most. They're usually not concerned with building any type of rapport, so they'll just let whatever they're thinking fly out there.

I found out Friday, when I walked a few blocks to show a friend a new pen (if you wrote with it, you'd understand). I jogged across the street to be absolutely sure my day wouldn't end as the grill of an oncoming SUV, and a man on a bicycle took notice.

"Hey, don't speed up. You make us white people look bad. I'm not racist, but Mexicans take their time when they cross the street. There's nothing wrong with a white guy taking his time to cross either."

I told him I'd rather not get hit by a car than have pride, and wished him a nice day. But I realized yet again that, "I'm not racist, but …," always means, "I'd have to be racist to say this, but …"

I got another reminder Sunday, when a man talked to me about the tornado that struck Clovis five years ago.

He said he loves homosexual people, but (see the pattern?) … the tornado did most of its damage in areas where homosexuality was most prevalent.

I was polite, though I couldn't resis't asking if the buildings and businesses damaged were gay buildings and businesses.

He never answered those inquiries, but changed the subject to how God protected most of Clovis, and nearly all of Portales, because they were faithful servants of the Lord.

I took a completely unscientific survey of friends on Monday, asking, "Which one's more offensive?" The tornado comments overwhelmingly won the day.

My mind wasn't changed on anything, but what was reinforced was the importance of talking to a stranger every so often. Not because you might make a new friend, but it gives you some perpective when you can say, "That thing I thought was insane-asylum crazy? Now I've got proof somebody actually thinks that."

A stranger may become a friend, a stranger may become a memory. But if you handle it right, a stranger always becomes a story.

Kevin Wilson is a columnist for Clovis Media, Inc. He can be contacted at 763-3431, ext. 313, or by email:

kwilson@cnjonline.com

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