BY STEPHANIE COOK
It was primarily laziness that was propelling me toward her desk, I decided. Pulling the phone out of my back pocket, opening a new browser page, and hastily googling “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie” could just as quickly give me the author’s name, along with a whole host of other facts I didn’t particularly need. From there, a quick run through the alphabet would lead me straight to its place on the library’s shelf. Simple. Efficient. Self-reliant.
As I continued to push my daughter’s stroller across the room, I felt the sigh slip out. Then, what I hoped was a barely noticeable eye roll.
Really? You can’t figure this out on your own?
I would chalk this moment of incompetence up to a long weekend of hosting an out of town guest, our first trip to the local Urgent Care as parents, and an afternoon spent wiping snotty noses and chasing Mr. Bucket’s balls around the kitchen – solely for my injured toddler’s delight.
I would be well rested, perky, productive, and self-sufficient tomorrow. AFTER someone else had plopped the mouse book into my lap – no questions asked. No effort asserted.
Deep, exasperated breath in – and exhale.
“Excuse me. Would you happen to know where the ‘If You Give A Mouse A Cookie’ book would be? Or a moose a muffin? Any of those. If I’m remembering right, they are supposed to be pretty cute.”
While my request spilled out in one long, lackluster string, I noticed that I was interrupting a conversation that the woman behind the children’s department information desk was having with herself. She looked up from behind her thick glasses, and smiled.
“Laura Numeroff. It’s right over here.” And off she went. Still smiling, and now on a brand new mission.
I followed close behind, still kicking myself for even feeling the need to ask for assistance. And pretty impressed that she didn’t need any google aid to produce the author’s name upon my demand.
Then came the words that put our entire encounter into slow motion.
“I’m so glad you asked. It’s been a while since anyone has talked to me,” she said.
I could barely find a suitable response as we arrived at the waist high shelf toward the back of the room. She bent down to the bottom row and began to read all the Numeroff titles they had on hand.
“If You Give A Mouse A Cookie, If You Give A Moose A Muffin, If You Give A Dog A Donut, If you Give A Pig A Party…”
She continued to smile. At me, at the books, and back again. It was clear that she didn’t want to walk away. She wanted to linger in this moment for just a couple of seconds more. As quickly as I could, I tried to think of anything I could say to make her stay feel justified. I commented on the number of options I did not recognize, my excitement to have found them, and the certainty I had that my donut loving son would appreciate the story about the dog. And I thanked her for her help.
As I began gathering my finds and placing them into the bottom sling of our stroller, I could hear the woman sigh with contentment, and start off back toward her desk.
I knelt there on the floor a moment, feeling the weight of the woman’s words still hovering over me.
I’m so glad you asked.
No one has talked to me in a while.
This stranger’s moment of vulnerability and openness was all it took to bring me back to what I know to be true. What I have passionately soap-boxed in my own living room countless times. What I have counseled myself on for the better part of seven years.
We have become a society that doesn’t get too close. Too dirty. Too involved.
We avoid, at all costs, any situation that may shed light on the most vulnerable corners of our lives. We stay safely within the lines of the neat boxes we’ve created, keeping the world away from our messiness.
We walk through life, blinders on, in hopes of making it through the day without revealing our shadow side. Because what would people think if they knew? Surely there would be disappointment. Maybe even disgust. It would be too much. Or maybe not enough. And we would most certainly have nothing to offer another.
But as we walk through life with those blinders on - self-preservation our leading lady - I wonder how many people we pass by who have been sitting there a while. Waiting. Hoping someone might stop by and ask of them anything, just to get the conversation started.
The question I posed the woman behind the desk was not a hard one. It was not one I needed answered. With minimal effort, I would have been just fine on my own. But I would have most certainly missed the opportunity to connect with someone on the fringe of my peripheral vision. Someone just outside of my box.
Today was a reminder to just ask.
Get in the habit of asking questions of those around you. Start small. Ask the easy ones. Ask them of those you already know. With time, practice, and the surrender of self, you will move the mountains that stand between you and the promise of deep connection.
This week – TODAY – make the commitment to identify the ways in which you have been closed off, and strive toward the changes that have a lasting impact.
An impact that promises to save and enrich your life, and all those you allow in.