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 to 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.”
He started to tear up, took a deep breath, momentarily swallowed his emotions (as there was now someone waiting behind me in line), and simply said, “That would be amazing. I’ll be off in two hours and I’d love to take you up on that if you’re still here then.”
“I’ll make sure of it.”