This Thursday was the most unusual day of this week I’ve had because of the number of times in one day that I was approached by strangers for help. I’ve spent half my life avoiding the simplest of interactions just so I don’t have to talk to anyone. Sometimes I push myself to get through it while somehow holding myself together on the outside. Most of the time I feel flustered and caught unawares while struggling to not let my panic show as I’m freaking out over such a brief and non-personal person-to-person verbal exchange. Unlike past incidents where I would basically blank out on the spot and barely be able to respond because I felt super anxious, at least now I can attempt to fake a somewhat calm demeanor. It’s hard for me not to think that no matter what I say, I’ll sound stupid or offensive, though. The times I’d be too anxious to reply were humiliating. In my mind, I gave myself the excuse it was better not to say anything than risk saying something and offending the person, but by not responding, I’d inadvertently appear as if I was ignoring someone and being rude.
Standing inside a subway terminal, I had my earphones in and was actually using my phone to finish typing up a blog entry when a young lady approached me to ask about a subway line she needed to get on but she wasn’t sure if it was an uptown or downtown train. I don’t know what made me take a chance on helping her. The old me would’ve not even bothered to pull out my earphones to hear her out and simply told her that I didn’t have the info she was looking for. I felt awkward being depended on for help but also wanted to challenge myself to try. I ended up using a transit app on my phone to find out her train line was the downtown one and I pointed her in the direction she should go to wait for the train. She thanked me as she walked off, and I chimed with no hesitation, “No problem”. And I admit, it did feel good. I got a rush of elation and satisfaction knowing I helped her and I managed to establish a brief connection with her (without having an anxiety meltdown) even though chances are I’ll never cross paths with her again.
Later I was in a park waiting to use the restroom and noticed one girl snapping a photo of another girl who I assumed was her friend. My eyes met hers after I happened to see her looking at me. I didn’t think too much about why she was looking my way so I went back to staring at the locked restroom door. Now as I reflect on the event, I realize I recognize the look she gave me. It’s the same look I often have when I desperately want to ask someone for a favor or for help but am scared to initiate a conversation with a stranger out of fear of not knowing how the person will react. A moment later, I felt surprised when the girl came to me asking if I could take a group picture of her and her friend. I took two photos of them. They had shopping bags with them and I happened to take the first photo with the bags showing up in the background, and the second one I zoomed in a little so the bags wouldn’t be in the photo. Afterward, I mentioned this to the girl and she didn’t seem to mind. It occurred to me I could’ve suggested retaking the first photo if they wanted to, but the words never came out of me. The feeling I had was almost akin to being afraid she would react negatively if I said my suggestion, except I think I was actually scared of prolonging the verbal interaction and not knowing what would come next in the conversation after that.
The third incident was a brief one. I was on the subway ride home and a girl stepped on while the train doors hadn’t closed yet. She asked me if the train was going express. I said I wasn’t sure. The one thing I’m proud of myself here is I didn’t avert my eyes as I replied to her and held eye contact with her. Although, that didn’t stop me from feeling like I gave her a completely lame answer. I wish I had given a more productive answer, like, “Oh, I’m not sure, I’m sorry I don’t have the info for you.”
What’s your story? Has there ever been a time a stranger came to you about something and you were able to help him/her even though you felt anxious the whole time?