One day I met Ryan.
And Ryan was trying to sell me something.
And he didn't work there.
He wore baggy blue jeans, a heavy green coat, and a Yankees baseball cap.
Wanted me to buy some sort of package so he could get enough points to maybe win a trip to Australia. Something with the military.
'Cause he was a veteran.
Let's just be clear on something--I'm frightened of strangers. I'm scared of the mail lady when she drives up with packages. The phone can ring off the wall if it wants, if I don't know the number I'm not answering, and heaven forbid if I return someone's call within the hour! I couldn't even order myself a burger for years without worrying I would say something wrong to the cashier.
And I was frightened of Ryan.
I was suspicious and I had no intention of buying anything from him.
I had a sneaking feeling that he wasn't supposed to be soliciting in Walmart anyway.
But he wanted to talk, and I decided to listen. And, "What if?"
I decided to go out on a limb.
At first it was asking me my name. And OH, his wife's name was Kayla, too! But they were in the middle of a rough divorce. Then it was that I looked like a doctor, and he didn't know where I'd gotten that scarf, but it was amazing. I told him I had crocheted it, and then he was officially single.
And he made me laugh.
I told him I was writer. I didn't catch what he did, but he used to be in the military. And someday he was going to get someone to help him write his story, how he'd been wounded and recovered.
And I don't know what made me say it, I know he was probably fishing for sympathy, buttering me up just so I'd buy something. But I asked, "What if?" and I said out loud, "Everybody's story is important."
Voicing a truth to him I hadn't even voiced to myself.
I didn't buy anything from Ryan. I told him thank you and handed the list of packages back to him. I told him it was nice to meet him, but he hurried away.
And I wondered what his real story was. Wondered if "that's what he tells all the girls"? Wondered if any of what he told me about himself was true, and what possessed him to pick me out of all the people in Walmart.
What if he this? What if he that? Maybe, probably not, but what if?
I've never seen Ryan since, the man in his early thirties, scruffy, a few inches shorter than me, and he didn't look like he'd fought in a war. But don't we all fight wars everyday and hide the scars from our battles beneath pretend smiles and fake happiness?
But everybody's story is important. Because no one takes the same story the same way. Because you might have learned something completely different from it than I.
I just learned a man's story, that if I look at people for their stories, for who they are--I'm not afraid. I wasn't afraid of Ryan after that. And I get tired of being afraid.
Feelings aren't always right.
But it's right to have feelings towards other people.
And the strange guy that walks up to you just might need something to trust, to hang on to, someone to tell him he's important.
We all need something to hang on to, something to trust, someone to tell us we're important, that all those ugly things we did? All those horrible things that happened to us? They're important, too. Because nobody looks at the same story the same way, everybody's story is different, and everybody means something.
And you'll learn something about Ryan that I didn't.
It's okay to listen. It's okay to be afraid. It's okay to care. It's okay ask, "What if?"
Because being vulnerable is not weak, and being afraid is not cowardly. And that stepping up against all fear of vulnerability is the surest way to be beautiful and make this ragged old world of ours a little bit better.