Recently I added a post to the website called, “Just Do It” which talked about getting up off your bum and doing something when you’re depressed. Well, I want to follow up on that and talk about the joy of meeting new people and getting to know their stories.
This last week I got to know four new people.
Some German tourists
Wolfgang and Wunzel are from Germany and I met them on beautiful Sydney Harbour at the Opera Bar, which is truly the most amazing spot to enjoy a drink on a Sunday afternoon. I was in Sydney for work and arranged to meet an old mate for a casual beer and chat. It was a beautiful sunny autumn afternoon and the vibe was incredible: awesome live music and people everywhere engaged in conversation, laughing, toasting and connecting. It was so packed that we had to ask a young couple if we could share their table because there was not a spot anywhere else. Dave (my mate) and I had a great time catching up, talking about our lives; work, wives, exercise, and the like. We celebrated having both finished post-grad studies last year, took some “selfies” to post on Facebook and generally just had a great time!
After a while I needed to run off to the bathroom and when I returned I found Dave chatting with the young couple at our table (Dave is VERY social and will pretty much talk to anyone). So I joined in, which is less usual for this introverted soul! I found out they are in Australia on a 5 year work visa living and working in Melbourne. After some general chit chat, we ended up talking about the Berlin Wall. When the wall came down they were both in their early teens, Wolfgang on the West and Wunzel on the East. They talked about what an amazing time it was; Wunzel for example, got given her first ever back pack to carry to school after the wall came down. She was so proud and so excited. Prior to that she simply carried her school stuff in a plastic bag.
Only about a week before meeting these guys I’d been reading some research about how eating disorders increased quite dramatically in East Germany after the wall came down because all of a sudden all these young girls were exposed to the Western ideals of beauty and body image, aka the “Kate Moss” look. (The wall came down in 1989 and Kate Moss rose to world wide fame in the early 1990’s).
I asked Wunzel if that was true and straight away she said, “Ahhhh yes, I remember that vell.” She went on to say that it didn’t really impact her personally, but she remembered a lot of young girls who suddenly believed they were too fat, having never really considered it before, prior to Western Influence.
She remembered a lot of young girls who suddenly believed they were too fat, having never really considered it before, prior to Western influence.
It was amazing to talk to a real person about some research that I’d just been looking at! We had a great time talking to them and were disappointed to have to say goodbye as they headed off to catch their flight back to Melbourne. Dave and I both agreed it was a rich and beautiful, albeit very brief time, with Wolfgang and Wunzel.
Why hold back from conversing with new people, just because the encounter may be brief? Life is richer for these experiences!
A Work Colleague
The next person I got to know this week, Linda, was not a new person to me. We’ve worked in the same hospital for the past three or four years, but never crossed paths until this week, when we both found ourselves in the same group at the routine and compulsory self-defence training for work. By day four, everyone was pretty darn comfortable with each other (which could have something to do with fake strangleholds and headlocks!) Over a $10 counter lunch at the local pub, Linda and I happened to end up sitting alone together at the end of a table. We started chatting.
During the training in a discussion about aggressive clients attacking staff over gender or religion issues, Linda had said she’d experienced that because of her religion. So over lunch I asked her what had happened and I found out that she is a Judeo Christian. Having never met a Judeo-Christian before, I was quite fascinated, so I asked her about it. The next 30 minutes was spent listening to Linda tell me about her faith and how she came to follow it.
Growing up, Linda’s parents were secular humanists. Despite their convictions and commitment to what they believed, Linda always felt like there must be more to life than just what we can see. so during her teens and early adulthood, she started to explore various religions. She tried the traditional ones and even had a go at joining, “the happy clappers” as she referred to them (pentecostals). What won her over in the end though was the Salvation Army Church. “There was just something so authentic about them,” she said and went on to explain that from everything she had read, Jesus was a real man of the people, a hero for the underdog, possibly one of the first men of his day to ever stand up for a woman (think of the woman at the well, the woman caught in adultery etc) and devoted to helping real people in need. So for years Linda attended a Salvation Army Church.
By chance she later worked with a person who was a Seventh Day Adventist, which got her thinking about whether the Sabbath is something all Christians should look at keeping. Linda investigated the Jewish faith and eventually decided that she should keep the Sabbath, but didn’t agree with conventional Judiasm because they do not see that Jesus was the Messiah and she didn’t really agree with all the beliefs of Seventh Day Adventists. Finally, she stumbled upon a local group of Judeo Christians.
It was amazing to hear her story. She has obviously really thought through her faith and is deeply committed to what she believes. She keeps the Sabbath fairly strictly, but then referred to Jesus healing the man on the Sabbath and said that if there were a need, like local floods, she would pitch in and help despite her conviction that she ought to keep the Sabbath. I was so inspired listening to Linda. She said her mother almost daily reminds her how heart broken she is that she has rejected Secular Humanism and embraced all this “silly, airy-fairy spiritual stuff” but acknowledges that she taught her daughter from a young age to be fiercely independent and know what she believes, so in a way it’s her fault!
A New Mate
Last, but certainly not least, I got chatting to a new mate, Steve, at our Friday Work Meeting. For about the first half of the meeting, it was only Steve and I sitting at the fire bucket as no-one else had turned up. It felt kind of awkward at first because I don’t really know Steve, but I bravely made the decision to move beyond superficial conversation about the footy or work, and actually attempt to get to know him.
I asked him a few questions based on what I already knew about him and quickly learned a most fascinating piece of information about Steve. At the age of five, Steve said that he was sitting on the lap of the Archbishop of Papua New Guinea who said to him, “I thank God for the gospel of Jesus Christ because my grandfather was a cannibal.”
“My grandfather was a cannibal.”
Yikes, that blew me away. Steve and I are about the same age, so that would be equivalent to my great-grandfather being a cannibal! We hear so much negative stuff about religion but there are also some amazing stories and I don’t think we should throw the baby out with the bath water. The church and religious history are dotted with lots of bad people making poor choices and using the name of their God to justify it, but there are also some amazing stories like this one about this man from PNG. Take the time to watch the movie, “Amazing Grace” and you’ll see another great example. The slave trade in England came to an end because of some incredibly committed Christians. Sunday School, another example, in its earliest form was a bunch of Christians making free education available to poor, marginalized kids. I often wonder what state our society might be in now if it wasn’t for these amazing people. I remember years ago reading about a Roman Emperor who talked about his shame that the Christians were doing a better job at caring for the poor than the empire was and doing it for free, sacrificing their own money and time to care.
Anyway, I learned heaps about Steve! I found out how he met his wife, about his passion for Indigenous Australians, about how he’s sacrificed a good income to make music and tell stories through that, about his kids, his PhD and his love of social justice. It was great listening to him and his passion is infectious. (I did some research and found out he has some songs on the Triple J Unearthed site too).
So inspired was I that this Thursday morning I’ll be joining Steve to volunteer at the University at 7.30am to pack boxes of fruits and veggies that are made available to uni students really cheaply. I am assured that I will get to meet another amazing man, a man who has endured torture and discrimination and poverty and pain and suffering for what he believes in. His name is Eduardo. I can’t wait.
So what’s the point of this post? Hmmmm, not sure. Maybe I just want to encourage you to take a risk, step out and get to know someone new, and discover the joy of hearing someone else’s amazing story. Some of you might be thinking that it’s easy for me to do, whereas it might be too hard for someone who is anxious or depressed. Well, If you’ve read any of my previous posts you’ll know that anxiety is my thorn in the flesh, if you like, so it’s not as easy for me as you might imagine. I will also tell you that this very week when I’ve been meeting these new people, I’ve been in quite a battle with the ol’ Black Dog. You don’t need to know why, but it was a conscious decision on my part to try to get inside the lives of other people rather than just feeling sorry for myself, and I am so glad that I did. It’s been a rich and beautiful week as well as a bit of a sad and difficult week, but I think that the two can live comfortably together in a person at the same time. We can use a simple tool like mindfulness to embrace the good, the bad and the ugly. I like Russ Harris’ definition of mindfulness:
“Paying attention with openness, curiosity and flexibility”
and that means doing it whether things are good or bad. Anyway, enough said. Just promise me one thing: go out this week and intentionally meet someone new or get to know someone and their amazing story who you already know as an acquaintance. I can guarantee that if you can get someone talking and telling you their story, your life with be all the richer for it.