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There must be worst things in life, I guess, then spending a long time in the waiting room at a distant Walmart automotive department. But after only an hour there, I was beginning to doubt it. Having not sufficiently charged my cell phone earlier, it set in my pocket as I zealously guarded the 3 percent battery life that remained, so its potential entertainment value was not available. I was completely bored. The television was on in the adjoining waiting room, where I idly watched the actress Shirly MacLaine being interviewed by a group of four women all sitting at a large desk, each prefacing every question to MacLaine with the comment of how great they thought she was. What wasn't great was that my new tire I was waiting to be installed on my Jeep still hadn't started.

That's when I looked up and saw I had company in that small waiting room. He was hard to miss -- under his arm he carried what looked like a home-made guitar in which the body of the instrument was covered in carved wooden flowers. In my dark humor, I assumed the worst in my new acquaintance: "Oh my gosh!" I thought with dismay to myself, "He's going to play that thing in here."

My worst fears were seemingly about to be realized as he methodically began tuning that strange looking guitar. Catching my gaze, he smiled warmly and asked "Mind if I play my guitar? I built this myself last year and have been trying to master it ever since."

Not wanting to be rude, I responded, "Sure," but I must confess I didn't mean it. It reminded me, back 25 years ago, when a smoker friend so often would ask if I minded if he smoked, I would always say, "No problem," although on the inside my mind was screaming, "Heck, yes, I mind!"

Suddenly, the room was filled with a warm and rich melody, and for the next 30 minutes, I was serenaded with a variety of German folk tunes. In between songs, he explained this was a small classical acoustic guitar he had purchased from Germany as a kit and built it himself. When he was summoned to come collect his car, I felt like I had made a new friend. I also realized that, had my phone been charged, I would have missed this opportunity to connect.

The cultural shift to technology in the past decades has given us an extensive menu of possibilities in this vast new world. The relationship with time-space we've had in the past has changed forever. I've traded time taken in traffic, lines, bureaucratic processes -- to name some -- for the prospect of doing things quicker and freer, at the tip of my fingers and in my pajamas.

But while I've been delighted with this, my expectation with over-connecting with people on digital stages -- especially new people -- has turned clouded. The readiness we've gotten contacting only like-minded people on only seems too ambitious if one turns a blind eye on the inevitable flaws this project entails. The impulse to decode the signs and give meaning to the things in the way we perceive them can shut down broadening experiences. Giving people a chance to express themselves in person might open the room for vulnerability, but also gives opportunities to face the fears of intimacy.

I noticed that, once I became aware of the temptation to quickly lash out someone on the grounds of my values, it can generate mutual support and enlarge my sense of tribe of fellow human beings.

After all, most of us grew up with some friends and family with plenty of quirks and contradictions. Many of them held different beliefs and views of the world, and we not only tolerate them, but also have long enjoyed their company as well. So, if one allows conditions for intimacy to grow by cultivating what is common rather than highlight what is not, a dance might start -- even for only one song within the vast possibilities of the rhythm and the music there. Perhaps we might find there is a person for each song instead of one for all of them, and that's also an art.

Just like playing the guitar.

NAN Our Town on 12/07/2017

Print Headline: Dancing with strangers

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