The Magic of Strangers – in Target and Beyond


Don’t talk to strangers.

It’s something I heard often growing up, and it’s something I’ve found myself telling my own kids more than a few times – especially when they were wild-haired, free-wheeling preschoolers who would say or do almost anything.

But it’s also incredibly bad advice.

(As my son asked in kindergarten, “If I never talk to strangers, how will I ever get to meet anyone new?”)

This week, two of my favorite memories were made with the help of strangers.

I ran into our area Target one night, looking for a few St. Patrick’s Day “happies” for my kids. When I hit the sunglasses section, I was immediately greeted by a dimpled, shout-talking boy of about eight.

“Isn’t the World Amazing?”

The boy, clad in an aqua-colored shirt that urged onlookers to “stay awesome” grabbed my hand and urged me to start trying on sunglasses.

“These make the store look pink!” he shrieked, wide-eyed. “And these make it look green! And look! Look! These make it look yellow! Isn’t the world amazing?”

Initially, I was in a hurry. But I sensed my day would be a little brighter if I spent some extra time with this young philosopher of a boy.

I made eye contact with a nearby girl who introduced herself as the boy’s (very patient but tired) older sister. “I’m really sorry,” she said, shaking her head.

“No! No!” I said, smiling. “I’m an educator and a mom. I totally get it. And if I’m honest, this is a conversation I need to have today.”

The girl looked grateful, and I took that as my blessing to visit a little more.

We spent about 10 minutes just talking about sunglasses. We experimented with what it was like to have one tinted pair after another on. Then, we started trying to predict what color we would see if we put on two different pairs at once.

Yellow and red, I “discovered” with my new friend, made orange. Blue and yellow tints, of course, made green. Red and blue gave us purple.

It was science, yes. But it felt like downright magic was happening to me right there with a pile of $12.99 Mad in China sunglasses.

My friend and I eventually parted – me to run errands, and him to rejoin his mother in another part of the store.

“Hey, Miss!” he called to me as he walked away. “Buy you some sunglasses, ok? And remember all the colors. The world really is amazing.”

Amazing, little man. Amazing, indeed.

“Look at the Ducks! Look at the Ducks!”

Later in the week, I had a little spring break fun with my family in Memphis. While there, I completed one of my bucket list items – to see the ducks escorted into the Peabody Hotel fountain downtown.

There is a great deal of fanfare surrounding the Peabody Duck March, which is held each day when the ducks arrive at 11 a.m., and again when they depart at 5 p.m. The Grand Duck Master gives a speech about the ducks’ history, and guests are prepared for what to expect upon arrival.

We were lucky enough to be at the Duck March the same day as a group visiting for their 60th high school graduation anniversary. They were a close-knit and friendly group of septuagenarians. Both my husband and daughter were asked to help people with their Iphone cameras. One man told me about life with a pacemaker. Someone else talked to me about gardening petunias. Although we were all crammed in close, everyone was in good spirits.

But no one was in better spirits than class member Ed, who was so stunningly jazzed about the ducks. He was so enthusiastic he couldn’t sit still, constantly announcing the remaining minutes until the ducks’ arrival and checking in to make sure his classmates understood his level of excitement. When about five minutes remained, he set off to find the elevator that would bring the ducks to the lobby.

Some in the group seemed a little relieved Ed had taken off on his own.

“That Ed just gets so, so excited,” one lady by me said, shaking her head but smiling in spite of herself.

“That’s Ed,” another added, eyebrows raised. “He’s always been that way but probably more so now.”

My family and I settled in, waiting. Just when we’d forgotten about Ed, he was suddenly right in front of us, Iphone waving inches from my corneas. “Look at the ducks! Look at the ducks! They just got off the elevator! They are off the elevator! I have a picture of them! This is what they look like, right here!”

He showed us the picture before dashing to the next group.

When the ducks arrived, I could no longer see Ed. But I could still hear him, clapping and calling. “The ducks! Oh! The ducks! Aren’t they just marvelous! Marvelous!”

And I suddenly felt so overcome with gratitude – for Ed and for the ducks and for every person in that lobby who slowed down and gathered together to see the simple act of five ducks waddling up to a hotel fountain. The ducks were marvelous. And so was Ed, with all his grinning enthusiasm and unabashed clapping and dashing about.

Thinking about it now, it strikes me that both Ed and my young friend in Target showed tremendous courage. Because life sometimes isn’t kind to people who are enthusiastic – who leap about, expressing unbridled excitement about sunglasses or ducks on an elevator. It can seem a little silly. Or unseasoned. Sometimes, the things we are excited about might fall short of the expectations of others and we might look a little foolish.

You’ve never seen sunglasses before? It’s just five ducks! What’s the big deal?

But if we can maintain our focus – and are lucky enough to sometimes have strangers remind us – there is so much to be excited about day to day.

So try on the sunglasses. Celebrate the ducks. And love the people who show you how to do that like crazy – even if they are the strangers your mama warned you about.

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