Writing on Air

Writing on Air by Jim Paredes


Connecting with strangers

Posted on August 31, 2014 by jimparedes

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated August 31, 2014 – 12:00am

It was 1974 when I first traveled abroad. I remember my first trip to New York. I was 22 years old, fresh out of college and was walking along 7th Avenue in utter amazement at everything I was experiencing through my senses. There was a crowd of people walking briskly in the direction I was going. On my left were stores, bistros and shops.

Just as I was about to enter a clothes shop, I heard someone from somewhere shout, “Harang diyan.” I looked around and all I saw were strangers’ faces. No Filipino in sight. Just the same, I looked forward and shouted, “Salamat” in the hope that whoever warned me about the store would hear it. About 20 feet forward, I saw a hand wave in acknowledgement amid the throng walking ahead. I smiled in delight. Someone must have noticed how innocent I looked and saved me from a possible shopping rip-off.

I have no doubt that most people have experienced kindness from strangers. It is good when people lend a helping hand.

But these things seem like a rarity to many. People in general try not to engage with strangers. People hesitate to approach other people who are in need for various reasons. They also hesitate to ask for help. Often, they feel that the other person’s problem is really none of their business. The hesitation comes from two reasons: one, they may feel that they are intruding and so decide to ignore the person and just go their merry way; and two, they may not want to get involved because it may be too much trouble.

I had a recent experience that I posted about on Facebook last Monday. Read on.

“Was sitting outside of 12 Monkeys bar awhile ago taking pictures of the skyline. On my right I could hear a young girl crying quietly while smoking and drinking beer and whiskey. I wasn’t minding her at first until she started really sobbing loudly. I hesitated to talk to her since it is really none of my business, but I thought that she was seated too close to the low railing of the balcony that opened to five floors down the street. What if she was depressed and was thinking of jumping? You never know.
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“Finally, I went up and asked her what was wrong. It was like a dam suddenly broke. She said she was heartbroken. BF cheated on her and she was drowning herself in alcohol. She hadn’t slept for three days. Nakikinig lang ako. She poured out the sordid details. I guess it is quite easy to talk to a stranger who shows no judgment. Sometimes, it is good to just listen. After a while when she calmed down, I told her not to do anything crazy that would cause her harm. She asked me what to do. I said to stop drinking, go home and just sleep. This bad feeling will also pass.

“She thanked me for my concern. I said I was there as one fellow human being present for another. I excused myself since I had to go in and watch my friends perform.

“Whoever you are, I hope you are okay and got some sleep. At least you did not jump.”

Soon after, I got a deluge of responses from my Facebook readers. I continue to do so. It seems an overwhelming number were touched that I had reached out to someone in need.

As for me, my reason for doing so was quite simple. I did not want to take the chance that this poor girl could be severely depressed and may even be suicidal. I don’t think I could live with it if she did end up committing suicide and I had a chance to prevent it but did not.

Before I approached her, I considered the possible scenario that she would tell me angrily to leave her alone. That wasn’t a problem since I know I can handle rejection pretty well. And so I approached her and it seemed to have resulted in something good.

I was actually more baffled by the fact that many readers thought that it was quite a big deal for me and/or anyone to reach out to someone who needs help. I ask myself why? Have we come to the point where we have become so alienated from each other that it has become a dilemma to care and do what needs to be done?

We now have all the material tools to connect to each other. There are smart phones, Internet, email, social sites, etc. which do connect us in some ways. But they also keep us at a distance from each other. We can pop in and out when we want, talk while enjoying mostly superficial interaction. We can even shut out or block people off.

But as humans, we want more physical intimacy and closeness. There is the need to reach out in a human-to-human way, to touch and be touched as persons, something that many of us in this age hesitate to do. If we do it at all, we do so with much doubt and discomfort. Vulnerability is still scary. And no one wants to be accused of being a meddler.

Every time I find myself involved in these situations, whether as a giver or a recipient, I wonder if the Universe is indeed depending on people to do certain things. One of them could be to stop humanity from going any crazier than it already is and to move consciousness to something higher.

And so the Universe resorts to serendipity and creates the right moments, or occasions for people to be in the right time and place and carry out what needs to happen. It is unfolding in a divine manner. As Deepak Chopra describes it, “Synchronicity is choreographed by a great, pervasive intelligence that lies at the heart of nature, and is manifest in each of us through intuitive knowledge.”

That Tuesday night, I felt that I was invited to the choreography, and was “chosen” to intervene in some stranger’s life.

Maybe all of us should be more open to doing this! Some will call it a Good Samaritan act, compassion, etc. Others may think it is dangerous to expose oneself to strangers and “crazies.” Whatever it is, when you open your heart to a stranger, not only is the stranger helped and possibly saved; but in some divine way, you feel wonderfully liberated too, knowing deep down that the simple act of extending yourself has made some positive difference in the life of another. And in yours, too.

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