Talking With Strangers
I often go on a four mile walk in Happy Valley Park in Oregon, which has a small wilderness marsh with lots of birds, some deer, coyotes, rabbits and squirrels. A lot of people walk their dogs in this park. I meet all kinds of people I don't know while walking my own dog. You could say I observe a cross-section of America and what's going on with the heartbeat of the average life as it struggles in pursuit of happiness.
What have I learned during talks with these people I meet in the park? I have found widespread divorce, alcohol and drug addiction, depression, bipolar disorder, people struggling with family members, schizophrenia and other mental disorders. I have found a wide variety of religious beliefs that people share with me. What can I give these people that would be meaningful and maybe helpful to them?
In 2010, I worked up a packet of materials dealing with self-esteem, depression and where you can go for help for addiction and suicide problems. This is material that I have gathered over a period of years when handling my own emotional challenges. I give these packets out free of charge. I've given out more than 100 to people I meet in the park, when I think the information would make their lives better. Not a week goes by that I don't pass out these materials to someone.
I use Charlie Brown and Lucy's story and say "I have some advice to give you and I won't charge a nickel like Lucy does."
What do I say to those strangers to open the communication pathway, so they will accept my materials if they need them, or if someone in their family does? I use Charlie Brown and Lucy's story and say I have some advice to give you and I won't charge a nickel like Lucy does. I begin by telling them I was born with dyslexia and couldn't read or write well when I graduated from high school. I also share that I have used counselors over the years who have helped me deal with my life and have made it better.
This usually opens the door to their hearts, and in various ways I will then say "How can I help you?" They may tell me about their deep struggles, with divorce, addiction or depression. I then offer them my packet to read. I also may tell them I will pray for them. So many are in this struggle to make their lives better, but do not know what to do.
Several years ago, I encountered six 13-year-olds walking to school. I have a routine where I step off the path or walkway and bow like Asians do when they greet one another; I remove my hat and verbally wish them well and have a great day at school. These young boys were very curious about me. I told them about my life as a 13-year-old, that I had a learning disability, and was treated badly by parents and teachers. That, in essence, I did not like myself. What is it like to be a 13-year-old dealing with life? I told them that the foundation for success was to learn to love themselves.
...if you are reading this, go help someone. It will be good for your soul.
As the year progresses, they keep stopping by to ask me to give them advice. I ask them to give themselves hugs by wrapping their arms around themselves and they do it. As the year goes on, I advise them not to compare themselves with others, but to accept that they are different from one another, with different skills, different talents and this is fantastically great! It's all right to be different.
Then, one of their classmates committed suicide. He was also 13. The school was in total disarray and emotionally very upset. I tried my best to calm the boys down by teaching them my three phrases: "It's okay," "Everything's going to be fine" and "I can handle it." The word "okay" is code for them to realize that their lives will work out okay. I said nothing else, but as they stood before me, they threw their arms around their own chests and gave themselves a big hug.
How wonderful to me that they had listened and believed that my ideas could work.
I will write more stories about my chats in the park on this site from time to time. Here's a message to take away for now: My mother taught me to help others. That is a good purpose, and it also makes you feel good. So, if you are reading this, go help someone. It will be good for your soul.
- Chuck Burroughs
This is an excerpt from Chuck's upcoming memoir, "Is It All Right to be Human?" You can pre-order a copy at www.nolankerr.com.