What gets people even total strangers to talk to each other? And what gets them to talk about intimate subjects?
The other day I was in our local IGA waiting for the deli guy to get finished with an earlier customer and I noticed that I was not next I was three from next. A woman came in behind me pulled number 20 out of the number dispenser and looked disgustedly at 16 displayed on the Now Serving display. She seemed in a hurry. It was lunch time and people working nearby often come in to pickup something for lunch. I pegged her for one of those people. I traded numbers with her. I told her she seemed in a hurry and I was going to do some other shopping while I was waiting for my number to come up.
I walked around the fresh fruits and vegetable area near the deli while waiting for 20 to get close. I got the other items I needed in that part of the store and found myself waiting while 18 was displayed as Now Serving. She initiated the conversation. I was only going to get cheese. I replied me too. I told her that I needed some Hoffman’s American cheese because I had planned on making macaroni and cheese. It had to be Hoffman sliced american cheese because in the past our daughter had related a story to Cheryl about our grandson Max telling his mom how he liked grandma’s macaroni and cheese better because grandma used special cheese. And why couldn’t she get some of grandma’s cheese to make macaroni and cheese with?
At our house we now call Hoffman’s cheese “Grandma’s cheese.”
She laughed and offered to give back 19 because she too was going to buy some Hoffman’s cheese. I replied no, that is okay I have plenty of time. I am retired. She told me that she was retired also and that she had worked in administration for Maple Knoll retirement community. She went on to tell me that she had cancer and was in treatment. So far, it was working. Her cancer was in remission.
I asked her if she knew Lynette Petersen, our friend that had recently passed away had worked as the executive chef at Maple Knoll. She had been retired from Maple Knoll for a few years. Number 19 had probably left Maple Knoll shortly after Lynette started there. She said the name was familiar but she did not work with her.
We exchanged other pleasantries and discussed other cheeses and how it seemed that Boars Head was taking over the deli case. She was not satisfied with Boars Head and I agreed.
But what would make her want to tell me about her cancer? That seemed a left turn in the conversation about retirement and its features. That seemed to me to be intimate information that one might not want to pass along to a total stranger. I was an empathetic face because I exchanged tickets with her?
Perhaps I was a friendly face and my kindness persuaded her to tell me about her current crisis.
I was an ear so she could expose her anxiety and worry without consequence and without concern about getting perhaps unwanted and unsolicited advise from family or a close associate. At that moment I was a help to her.
And she got her cheese before me.
A mitzvah outside of religion.