You don’t know what other people are going through. You are barely aware of their life, their well- being and their emotional currents. Find out what you need to know while dealing with any person.
There’s a coffee shop down the street from where I live that I frequently go to to get some writing done in the morning.
I went there a few days ago and something strange happened.
The barista behind the counter was the same one I interacted with almost every time that I came in. We were on a first name basis with each other… and not just because he wears a name tag. In fact, we have nicknames for each other. I call him Spike, and he calls me Peanut Butter Man (the former because of his immaculately styled hair that looks rather hedgehog-y, and the latter because I always ask for extra peanut butter in my smoothie).
I shouted at him from across the cafe as I walked towards him, expecting the unusually upbeat guy I’d grown accustomed to first thing in the morning.
As I walked closer to the counter I noticed that Spike looked a lot less playful than his usual self. He actually appeared quite blank. Eerily blank. Like no one was home. He looked vacant… which was a stark contrast to the guy I knew who always wanted to tease and laugh, even if it was 5:30 am.
“You alright Spike? You seem different today.”
“Yeah man, no. I’m not good at all.”
Since there was no one behind me in line, or really anyone within ear shot, I thought it was safe to prod on.
“Want to talk about it? You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but something’s clearly going on.”
He hesitated for a moment… and then something shifted in the quality of his eye contact… as if he decided that I was safe enough to confide in. His words came flowing out of him like water from an open fire hydrant.
“So my parents split up when I was pretty young, and I never really knew my biological dad. My mom re-married pretty quickly and I was raised by my “step-dad” even though he was basically just my dad. Anyways, I found out by email this morning that my biological dad committed suicide yesterday and he talked about me a ton in his suicide note. I literally found this out less than two hours ago and I think I’m still in shock. You’re the first person I’ve told and I don’t think I’ve allowed the news to hit me at all yet, on an emotional level.”
There was a pause as he finished his thought, and I made sure that he was finished sharing what he wanted to share.
“Well,” I replied, “I’ve never experienced anything like that at all, but it sounds like a very difficult and emotionally complicated thing to have happen. I’m a really good listener. I’ll be here, working, for a few hours and if you want to go for a walk when you’re off work and talk about it, I’m here for you brother.”