I talked to a man this weekend that I’d never met before. He seemed of similar age to me. A bit grayed. A bit squinted in his eyes. A bit of similar hair loss pattern. We were to have about 30 minutes together.
In what could have been very superficial talk — the weather, very surface layers about family, trite affirmations — to my delight, we went much deeper than that. Something in me felt determined to not be in the superficial. I suppose something in him also.
It was disclosure that broke through the barrier. This man, a stranger, shared as context for his life his divorce. He didn’t leak his story out. Though there be wound there, he did not speak it with festering nor vitriol. He was just sharing a truth.
I listened to this man speak, who was becoming less of a stranger. I didn’t jump in to fix. Nor to simplify. Rather, I responded with appreciation for his willingness to share. And I named it — “There are parts of your story that I relate to. Different circumstances, but I have some of that story in me too. But what I most appreciate is your disclosure. Without bravado. Just an honest sharing of something not fully resolved.”
I proceeded then to share some of my story. Not all of it. Just some, responding to his getting below the surface. Oh, so much more fulfilling to get to this layer. With a stranger. In the space of thirty minutes. That grants us a bit more permission to show up together.
I believe that so many of us are seeking what is below the surface. We don’t always know this — in our jobs, our communities, our organizations, and in our families. We aren’t always rewarded for this — in fact, the standard for compartmentalized lives discourages this kind of vulnerability and disclosure.
Yet, oh, how the human hungers for even the most minimal moment of real. I’m glad for this. On the weekend. With a stranger. That, left us both less stranger, and less feeling strange.