East Meets West: “When trusting a stranger your trust will be returned”
Dedicated to Tash (my SOMS), Jill (my sister), Matt (my BFF). Kris, don’t you even chirp at me, you know you’re so important to me.
I had been in town for, maybe, maybe 48 hours, having a pint at O'Reilly's with my now ex (don’t worry, I shan’t include him in this blog too often unless relevant. Nor mention his name or bash him. It’s just really not worth it. He’s long become a stranger to me, and so was that version of me who stayed in a relationship that was already decomposing). I was still absorbing the newness of everything. He’d already been out there for a month prior getting the lay of the land, setting up a house (not a home) for us and working. A woman was staring at him for a while and I surmised that it was one of his co-workers, because it can be unusual to see a co-worker out of context.
It most certainly was not. The woman staring at him was his ex from back in Ottawa, whom the entire time that we lived in Toronto, and so did she, we NEVER ran into her. I’m across the country for a nano-second, still wrapping my head around that weird 90 minute-ahead time zone and I’m faced with this? She joins us for one of those awkward (and unwelcomed, to me) catch up sessions; oscillating between trying to intimidate and dominate me, evolving into cowering and then revering (I’m a formidable opponent). She asks my ex to join her outside for a smoke (he doesn’t smoke) “because, oh wow, what are the chances” and of course there’s things to be said when the girlfriend’s not in earshot (like exchanging phone numbers and never disclosing it until you’re breaking up).
The server comes over, while I’m still trying to scrape my brain off of the table “Excuse me, can I have a girl moment?”’ I say to her. I regale what had just happened and when she returns she plunks down a shot of tequila, cheers me with hers, and we’re best friends still to this day. Isn’t the funny? Or how it usually works? Vulnerability can be the currency of connection and you then get gifted the friendship of the Sister of your Soul.
When you’re a stranger in a strange land, there’s really a fine line between being a nervous wallflower hoping to be noticed and the overexcited puppy slobbering at the prospect of new friends. Newfoundland made this balancing act right easy. How? Kevin Bacon’s degrees of separation got nothing on Newfoundlanders; size matters. One thing to keep in mind is the population of the province; Da Rock’s populous is just over 500,000 verses Ontario ringing in at nearly 13,000,000 (according to the 2011 Canadian Census, the year I lived in Newfoundland). Try this perspective on for size, again referring to the 2011 Canadian Census; my hometown’s population is half of the PROVINCE (just over 200,000).
Curiosity, connectivity, and I won’t say gossip; but gossip, makes for one saucy (let it be known I’m using the “west coast” meaning of saucy. As in “minxy”,” winka winka” not the meaning often uttered by Nan when you’re being rude “Don’t you get saucy with me!”) Ménages a trios. It’s easy to know what’s going on in other people’s lives, and for people to have the tabs on you. Community is strong because of the deeply woven, generational interconnectivity.
So when someone is new, they are super new, mysterious, even. Humbly, I can say, of course, people were curious about me! Especially those at my new place of employment. I was a tall, loud “Come from Away” that already had a bit of infamy about me (snippets of my interview for my job might’ve come out before I started working. I may have referred to myself as a unicorn? I can’t be certain, it was a while ago). Nevertheless, I’ll tell you this; the kindness I experienced was unparalleled, due in part to the fact that it was never asked for, simply offered.
You hear tales about tourists asking where the best place for supper is, only to end up in someone’s home for a Jiggs dinner. In St. John’s, vehicles half a block away would slow down and happily wave me across the street. No playing real-life Frogger here! Doors were held open. Chatter was made in grocery store lines. People would happily seek out my eye contact to say hello, to smile. I was included. I was very welcome. Never once was I without a ride home from work, even if home was in a completely different direction.
And when I thought I’d be without a home before I left the Rock in the midst of my break up, I had one. Dear friends took me in the very next day, with all openness and love and steadfast concern and comfort that a family gives when you’re feeling tender. They were family; they are family.
Hey! Rosetta (oh look at them popping up again) has the lyric “When trusting a stranger your trust will be returned”. Sadly, it’s not always the case in the world, but Newfoundland sure expanded and challenged my heart to be the person that a stranger could trust.
And sometimes extending that kindness means complimenting the shirt of a future co-worker. One simple comment leads to a seven-year friendship, which extends coast to coast, throughout and is the reason why I have a column. So go ahead, smile at someone, say hello, I dare you.