Reach out and listen to someone

There was a definite process by which one made people into friends, and it involved talking to them and listening to them for hours at a time.

—Rebecca West, novelist

I love meeting new people, do you?

I find people so enticing, in fact, that I never complain if I’m asked to wait. Just park me somewhere and I will watch those around me with great interest, knowing that before long someone will take a seat next to me and we will be in conversation.

My husband says I have an invisible sign pinned to the front of me, visible only to those in need of a listening ear. It reads, “If you’d like to talk, I’ll be happy to listen.”

I blame my parents.

They greatly influenced this phenomenon, for I have vivid memories of watching them maneuver with complete strangers. Over time I learned that each of them approach people in very different but equally effective ways.

My dad is a questioner. Our summer vacations always involved cross-country road trips and every time we stopped to gas up the car Dad moved into his act. He would ask the station attendant (in those days they washed your windows and filled your car for you) myriad questions that began with a general greeting and moved into topics involving things like average rainfall and local population growth.

“What is your main industry here?” he’d ask.

“Where do you go to school?” Dad would persist.

It was this point in the questioning that signaled the coming event. This public school administrator and track coach could not possibly let the opening door shut without THE question being asked—the grand finale of his conversations: “Where could I find the school’s track facility if I wanted to check it out?”

By then my brother and mother were crawling down to the floorboard of the car. Not only did they feel sorry for the attendant, but they knew we were destined to look at yet another track.

We saw many as we traversed the country each summer.

My mother, on the other hand, likes to strategically place herself next to people who look interesting and ease into gentle conversations. I have immutable memories of her giving museum displays, historical markers, and boiling mud pots a cursory glance before parking on nearby benches to “rest her feet.” She especially loves animals and will ram headlong into an extended conversation with anyone handling a pet.

Even in adult life talkers surround me, for I am married to quite the conversationalist. And it was an encounter my husband had with a Korean woman, sitting next to him on a flight to Memphis, Tenn., that brings me to this week’s thought: If you make the effort to reach out and connect with people, God will not only touch your life with remarkable individuals but will use you to touch their lives as well.

It is for this reason that I am not a great proponent of chance, because far too many amazing people have crossed our paths to give merit to the concept. And more times than I can count have these encounters involved people of faith, which amazes me.

Mihi is a 44-year-old cancer researcher, working at the National Center for Toxicological Research in Arkansas. Within minutes my husband learned that Mihi completed her Ph.D. program in Japan and lives in the U.S. to continue her study of environmental toxins and the role they play in an individual’s susceptibility to cancer.

Matt discovered her to be extremely intelligent and tender. After an extended time of visiting during the flight they agreed to e-mail and exchanged addresses.

It is over the Internet that we know much more about Mihi: where she was born, interesting information about her parents, and her work in cancer research. We have also learned she is a Christian (only about 30 percent of Koreans are) and that our shared beliefs beautifully circumvent culture, distance, and her broken English. It provides an immediate level of trust that might never have developed, or at best taken a long time to establish, without the element of faith.

Most of the time conversations begin when we slow down, look others in the eyes, smile, and simply ask God to open the door to worthwhile interactions with those with whom we come in contact.

This is one of the great rewards of faithful living: Having the eyes to see and the heart to appreciate that God actively moves, interacts, and unites His people with great purpose.

Joan Bay Klope is a freelance writer and speaker who makes her home on Whidbey Island. Her award-winning column has run for 12 years in Western Washington newspapers. E-mail comments and speaking requests to

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