do you start random personal conversations with people you barely know?
i don't, but i'm also kind of out of touch and i'm not sure which side of normal i fall on this one.
as a general rule, i save my detailed personal info for people that are routinely updated on my life. but what do i know, maybe i need a lesson in socialization skills. maybe i'm contributing to the self-centered mindset that many people claim is taking over our population.
maybe my need to protect my small and insignificant matters is seen as an unwillingness to participate in regular society. who knows.
what i do know is that my neighbor ambushed me in the laundry room yesterday as i had my head in the washing machine to warble in an oddly undulating squeak "i just found out my sister-in-law has breast cancer."
and i should be clear, i don't know this woman's name or much about her other than what you can infer from seeing someone walk to their car once in a while.
this gut punch of a conversation starter had an exquisite effect of unfolding emotions on me. first there was anxiety, 'does this crazy lady really want me to do this with her? talk about someone elses boobs and cancer?!'
next there was sympathy, 'ugh, this poor lady probably has no one else in her life to talk to about this and it must really be bothering her.'
there was also a distinct sense of insensitivity, 'how can i be polite and at the same time get the hell out of here to catch that 12:46 train this afternoon?'
as i tried to find the appropriate tone for my 'gosh i'm sorry' and 'oh' and 'uh-huh' responses, she began talking about sharing this news with her church congregation and how she was asking for prayers.
this ignited yet another intense emotion for me which i almost can't even name. being raised as a (barely) practicing jew, i have never in my life felt comfortable with churches. even the mention of activities inside churches are enough to make me squeamish to the point where i want to shed the conversation like you would wet clothes.
as her monologue drew to a close, i felt the most overwhelming sense of relief.
unfortunately, that relief has not lasted. i am still going back to that conversation in my head and asking myself 'was i wrong to not offer more genuine consolation?' or 'was she completely crossing a line by trying to incite my involvement in her emotional well-being?'
truthfully, i cannot imagine reacting any differently should this scenario occur again tomorrow. call me the crazy one, but that is exactly why i would never put a stranger in a position like that.