Mary sits across from me, bright-eyed and cheerful in a hot pink stretchy shirt. She tells me she, too, went hungry as a kid. She too had a mother who was suicidal. Who checked out from her motherly duties. Who forgot to feed her kids.
So Mary panhandled.
As she speaks — without a trace of self pity — a hot tear slides down my face.
I don’t lose eye contact. Don’t wipe the tear away. Don’t say a word.
“So years later I’m living in the Bay area, and I’m tired of being depressed, you know? I’m sick of being sad my whole life. I take up skateboarding. I love it. Never felt happier. One day, I wipe out and break both my wrists. It wasn’t such a big wipeout. That’s weird. A few days later, I’m back at work and I high-five a co-worker — and break my hand again.”
Mary pauses. Sucks in her breath.
“The doctor tells me I have early onset Osteoporosis. From malnutrition as a kid.”
My heart breaks with her hand.
“I’m not even 30.”
My cheeks are wet. I still say nothing.
Mary and I are strangers. I don’t know her. She doesn’t know me.
We met a few minutes ago, here at Against The Stream Meditation Center in Santa Monica, California.
Both of us are part of a group of 30 odd people who’ve committed to *A Year To Live. It is a yearlong Buddhist meditation practice based on the book by Stephen Levine — A Year To Live: How To Live This Year As If It Were Your Last. His son, Noah, founded Against The Stream.
Our facilitator, the seasoned and calm Mary Stancavage, gives us an exercise in Deep Listening.
Sit in front of a stranger and tell your life story. In 10 minutes. If you’re listening, don’t say a word. Don’t nod. Don’t smile. Simply take it all in. Be present.
One of the hardest things for us to do, in our world of constant distraction. Be present. So many of us are numbed out to feelings. Overmedicated. Checked out. Scattered.
I don’t choose anybody. I trust the right person will come to me. The one who needs to hear my story to unlock theirs.
So I told Mary my story first.
It’s my job to be vulnerable. That’s what a leader is today. I told the stark truth of my personal story. The early hunger. The yearning. I also told the triumph on the other side. As I told, tears slid down Mary’s face.
Now Mary is finishing her story. It’s no accident we found each other.
The clock ticks. A few seconds remain.
“So for me,” says Mary, “death is real.”
Her ten minutes are up. I stand, hug Mary tightly. We slide back to our spots around the circle. But I am not the same person.
Neither is Mary.
Each encounter has the potential to change who we are. On a cellular level.
When we tell our stories true. Unvarnished. Warts and all. We open up the possibility for others to share the story that needs to come out.
We give permission.
In this simple way, we can not only connect with strangers, we can give comfort.
The comfort of strangers.
I believe that the better we get at story telling, the more we do it with strangers — the stronger we build a matrix. A community. The more hope we have.
Story is foundational. Message is foundational. When we make these clear, and claim them, we come home to ourselves.
Look at the photo again. Our faces are rinsed clear with the tears. From being heard.
From being seen.
Sometimes, for the first time.
This goes for how we connect with leads, customers and Ideal Clients, too. People know when you’re faking. If you don’t truly care, people sense it. So crack your own heart open. Then invite someone else to do the same. In that way, we can connect. And both be bigger and make more impact than when we are alone.
How hungry are you? I see clients falter when they don’t have an urgent need to earn. Or if they simply lack the hunger. Have you ever been truly hungry? Take some time and re-live that hunger. Feel it. Let it fuel you.
P.S. Try the Year To Live 10-minute storytelling exercise with a stranger. Maybe at a cafe. Maybe a museum. A yoga class. Somewhere quiet. More contemplative. Safe. Let us know what happens.
IF that’s not possible — try this. Simply be more present for a stranger who appears in your daily life. Ask them their name. Music to everyone’s ears. Ask them something about how they are. Listen deeply. Give them a hug. Adjust their tie. Or adjust their scarf. Simple touch is pure magic.
P.P. S. Mary and I are yearlong partners for A Year To Live 2015-2016. If that’s not fate. She told me she always wanted to write. A week after the first gathering, she says she wrote up her experience. She says she’s not going to stop.
Don’t you stop either.
We need you.
*Did you know that according to scientific studies, contemplating death daily is one of the most powerful and rapid ways to increase your happiness? That’s why I plunged into A Year To Live. I want to live life to the fullest. I want to make the biggest impact I can while I’m here on this earth. I want to reach my potential, leave a legacy — make a dent in the universe. Smiling all the way. How about you?