It was my husband’s turn to host a group of guys from our neighborhood who meet for coffee once a week. When the gathering is at our house, I help get things set up in the morning, then head out for a few hours to myself away from home. Sometimes I go to the health club. Other times I run a few errands or do a little shopping. But this week I decided to go somewhere where I could just grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading – starting with a few days’ worth of newspapers that piled up while I was busy with other things earlier in the week.

It seemed like a nice, relaxing thing to do, but the newspaper headlines and stories were anything but relaxing – not that I expected them to be. Still, reading the national and world news seemed even more unsettling than usual. Between the continuing battles among our leaders in Washington, the escalating situation with Iran and other countries, plus a new story every few days or so of people in different locations and circumstances getting shot and killed, I’m feeling more vulnerable and less safe than I ever have before. And with all the stories of security breaches, identity theft, and the latest phone and internet scams, it’s getting harder and harder to trust anyone.

I was thinking about all of this when an elderly gentleman sat down at the table next to mine. He nodded and smiled, and made a comment about reading newspapers, as opposed to getting the news online. Before long we were chatting about things like retirement, living in the South, children and grandchildren. In the back of my mind a little voice was saying, “Be careful. Don’t give out any personal information.” And I didn’t. But at the same time, another little voice was telling me I was being paranoid and shouldn’t be so suspicious, especially of someone who was – like me – simply getting a cup of coffee and killing some time.

It felt a bit like the old-time cartoons, when someone is tempted to do something wrong, and a little angel appears on one shoulder and a devil on the other. One tries to influence the person to resist the temptation, the other to give in to it.

That’s not exactly what I was going through, but I did feel that same back-and-forth pull between two opposing forces – having a friendly and casual conversation with a stranger sitting next to me, or turning the other way, pulling the newspaper up around my face, and blocking off all contact. In the end, I decided that being friendly and being cautious are not mutually exclusive.

And that’s how I plan to live my life. Cautious, because I have to be – we all do these days. And friendly, because I want to be. It’s my nature. Besides, you never know when a smile or a kind word is exactly what someone close to you might need.

Before long, it was time for me to pack up and return home. We said our goodbyes, along with a “Nice to meet you.” I drove back home, feeling warm and relaxed. And remembering that there’s still a lot of good news – and good people – in the world.

June 21, 2019
©Betty Liedtke, 2019

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