Dear blue-shirted stranger,
It’s me. The slightly sunburned woman in the spicy-hot-mustard-yellow dress two seats down from you at last night’s Khruangbin concert. For at least three hours, we jammed out side by side — you in your backwards baseball cap and me with my endless thigh sweat stains. Summers in Missoula, amiright? Hard for us northerners to acclimate once the sun decides to shine.
But look, I didn’t write this letter to rehash our local weather. I’ll just come right out and say it: I’m sorry. When the wig-wearing guitar-shredding chap onstage encouraged us all to introduce ourselves to those around us, I could feel the disappointment emanating from your eyeballs as you muttered a slightly annoyed “okay…” in response to my cold shoulder. And it’s true, my gaze remained steadfastly on my friend as I pretended to laugh at a joke I didn’t even hear so there was no chance of engagement with you, an unknown human.
I could give you all sorts of excuses. COVID, for one. Can’t be shaking hands with potentially germy strangers. Or my falafel breath. Wouldn’t wanna accost you with hot billows of ingested garlic. What about the fact that the “greeting each other” part was always my least favorite aspect of church gatherings. You say hi, you share awkward small talk, then you avert your eyes from each other every time you cross paths in the entry hall.
Also, I was incredibly high. Like, almost irritatingly so. Even though I’d told myself I was taking a week or two away from the stuff to let my brain breathe and reboot its full storage of vocabulary. But my husband’s been out of town, and he’s my best friend. You can’t imagine (or maybe you can?) the disjointed feeling of trying to be social without your ride-or-die wingman. That person who makes you feel like you’re always funny and charming and that your awful lilting dance moves are cool. I seriously think the people behind us were laughing and posting memes of me online. That’s the sort of paranoia I was dealing with.
And then. And THEN! The strange sight of burning paraphernalia plummeting through the sky above our heads like the Deatheater Dark Mark REALLY sent me into a tailspin. I watched the mountain range to our right for about 20 minutes waiting for a death-blow explosion. I mean, that’s how the dinosaurs went. My son is always talking about it. And here, right before my bloodshot eyes and with the deafening sounds of sweet guitar licks in the background, I was about to die next to a total stranger. Even after I’d been given the chance to make you NOT a stranger.
It was all I could think about as I watched the glowing light trail disappear from the sky. My last night on earth and I spent it being overly self-conscious and unfriendly. And it’s particularly frustrating because this is something I’ve actually grown in over the last decade — being a more community-minded type. I used to tell myself, from the age of 5 until about 35, that it was okay to avoid engaging with people. Even though every part of the gospel screams “you’re in this TOGETHER”… no thanks, I’d rather not. Maybe no man is an island, but this woman can be.
Except that, when I think back on my 36 years of living, nearly all of the meaningful soul moments involved other people. Personality clashes taught me about myself, my own rough edges, and gave me a chance to practice radical “seventy times seven” forgiveness. I see God’s incredible patience, love, and tender care in my husband. I experience His inexhaustible grace and mercy from my friends and kids — both inside and outside the walls of a church. There is sweetness in solitude and, believe me, I know there is a special place for introverts in the Kingdom. I just also believe, based on experience, that while relationships are often where we endure the deepest cuts, they’re also often the places where those wounds are mended. It’s extremely agitating to me, but it’s how I’ve seen the Spirit work.
All of this to say, I sincerely apologize for staying safely in my bubble. I wish I’d had on a shirt that said “This is me trying.” Because I was, as much as my poor little weed-addled, wingman-less self would allow. I wish I’d introduced myself. Danced harder. Really made myself proud in those “last moments” before “death.” I’d like to think that something did, in fact, die as I took in the bits of flaming space trash hurtling through the atmosphere into the forest: my resistance to human connection. At least, a small piece of it. When I heard your faint sigh of resignation over the clamor of the crowd, it was like a sledgehammer to that inner Berlin Wall built up around my heart.
So next time we find ourselves in close proximity of one another at a musical function, in an airplane row, or the grocery store aisle, get ready for a hug, my brother. COVID or no COVID, high or not, garlic juices and all, I will lather my awkwardness all over you so that, in the event of an emergency, we can die together as family. I’d like to imagine it’s what all the T-rexes and triceratops and other prehistoric lizards wish they did just before the lights went out.