Discovery Through Elearning – Blog

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Don’t turn away from Barb; she will surprise you.

She shuffled in with her hair unkempt, clothes oddly put together, and what appeared to be more slippers than shoes.  She didn’t have a purse.  Instead she placed several bags down on the floor. She muttered to herself.  The waiter showed her into to the empty table right beside me.

I was looking for a simple and quite breakfast before heading out for the day.  Without wifi I couldn’t check email while waiting for my meal so I opted for an ebook I had downloaded.  The lady beside me was now settling herself into her seat chatting away to herself about her table and surroundings.  The waiter brought her a menu and asked if she wanted some water.  The woman, overly politely, said “Yes dear.  You’re being ever so kind to me.  Thank you for being so good.”  Then continued to talk to herself about wanting pancakes.

I continued to try to read by book and wait for my breakfast.  Far, far too long for toast and granola.

But something was at play.  There was a greater reason for the delay in my meal being brought to me.

It was for me to meet Barb.

She looked over at me and said something I continued to dismiss and then I tuned into her saying “Oh she’s too busy with her face stuck in her phone.”  She was right.

She asked where I was from.  Toronto.

She is from San Diego (where I was visiting and having my toast).  Grew up in Massachusetts, but has visited Montreal.  Her sister went to McGill and still lives there.  She visited Ottawa as well.  Then when she retired from being an oncology nurse for 35 years, she wanted the warmth and moved to San Francisco.  Even that was a bit too cold so she came farther south.  However, San Francisco has much better culture and diversity.  There are all sorts of cultural clubs for Italians, and Irish, and German, and you get to meet all sorts of people.

Her grand daughter lives there and is a teacher.  Doesn’t make nearly enough money.  They don’t pay teachers nearly enough to survive.

You can see her building out the window from our view point and she lives on the third floor.  Thank goodness it’s not the top floor.  The third floor is just high enough to still see the trees and hear the birds in the morning.  It’s also just high enough to walk up the stairs instead of the elevator to get her exercise and keep her legs strong.

The weather here is lovely and warm, but she misses seeing the seasons change.  There are too many beaches her.  Don’t get me wrong.  Lots of people love the beaches, but it’s way too cold to enjoy them. That’s why everyone wears those rubber suits.  Where she grew up the water would get into the 70s in the summer and was always warm enough to swim in.  I should visit there because they have lots of lovely museums.

She’s 76 and her birthday is in April.  She’ll be 77 and will be taking the Coaster up to LA to go to a show up there (I can’t remember what show she said).

Her dad’s health had gone into decline.  She wasn’t going to wait until they got worse.  She was very happy to be able to spend the last 4 months with her dad before he passed away.  She lost a friend last year, but remembers what her father told her.  “Barb,when you get to my age you start losing your friends. But that’s life. We’re all going to die at some point.”

At the end of my meal, after listening to Barb tell me stories of her life and ask me questions of mine and my visit, I left smiling.  I had a new friend.  I took the time to listen, to put my imagined concerns away, and to just be human with another person sitting, having breakfast and looking to chat.

She gave me a hug and wished me safe travels and I wished her a nice day.  I truly hope her day is well, as are the days ahead.

My only regret from this interaction.  I should have taken a picture of my new friend.

1 Comment

  1. Brian SteevesBrian Steeves02-03-2017

    Hi Tracy,
    This is a great, and important, story because it illustrates the need for human interaction and overcoming the fear of saying “hello” to a stranger. Fear of human contact is a challenge that inflicts many people today. Maybe fear is the wrong word, maybe lack of empathy is better.

    “Oh, she’s too busy with her face stuck in her phone,” really says it all. You decided to have a conversation with this woman, and she too got to meet you and tell you her story about her family, and her dad. This moment was just as important to her as it was for you. The two of you actually cared enough to speak to each other, to learn a bit about each other and to share a personal (non-digital) moment. Both of your lives are better for that contact.

    Before Chris and I went to Hong Kong, I asked a couple of documentary film makers how I should shoot the time there. They told me to not assume anything, do not prejudge anyone or any situation and most importantly, no in-camera cropping. I asked what they meant about the last one. “Don’t just shoot the pretty things; you’ll miss all of the really important things that are there.” I shot everything I saw and I told the truth. And, a lot of people got to practice their broken english with me. Fantastic.

    Great read Tracy. Thanks for posting it.

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