The best definition of Trust I ever heard was during a course led by Brené Brown, where she quoted it as: "Choosing to make something important to you, vulnerable to the actions of someone else."
The man in front of me hoisted his large plastic basket straight onto the conveyor belt, full of groceries. And instead of emptying the contents out for the cashier to scan, he turned to me and just quietly said, “Hi.” Caught off guard, I saw his kind face and warm demeanor. So out of instinct, I smiled and responded with my usual, “Hi, how are you?”
“My son just got fired from his job, and is now living at home with me. I don’t know what to buy for him… I just don’t know how to help.”
Suddenly, I looked at his un-emptied basket on the conveyor belt, a mix of frozen foods, vegetables, and pizza. In that moment, the unorganized heap of groceries made complete sense; it was filled with food he knows his son likes, as well as ingredients he knows he needs. The mess of items hastily thrown into the basket reflected his need to provide, as well as the fear that he was not providing enough.
I went through a myriad of emotions in a split second as the cashier began to scan his cart: confusion, sympathy, and the yearning to hug someone I didn’t know at all. So without knowing the perfect thing to say or the right way to respond, I just said,
“That must be so hard. I’m so sorry he lost his job. But if it helps at all, you got probably the best pizza they offer here. And I’m from New Jersey, so I know pizza.”
And almost immediately, tears started to well up in his eyes as he launched into the entire story: how his son was having a tough time finding a job in the first place, has been struggling to figure out what he wants to do in life, and how it has been an unending series of unfortunate events. And how, as this boy’s father, he is desperately trying to figure out how to help.
As we stood in line all I did was maintain eye contact, listen and nod. I felt so unprepared and useless because I didn’t have any answers to this man who was twice my age. But I also felt like he just needed someone to listen – so that’s what I did.
What I recognized in that moment was that he was entrusting me with some deep-seated vulnerability with which he was struggling, and there was no way I was about to break that for him. So as I stood in line, watching this man pay for his items and pack up his things, I couldn’t help but notice his relieved smile as he left saying:
“Thank you. I hope you have a really good rest of your week.”
“You as well”, I replied, “I’ll be thinking of you both.” And I meant it. I’ve continued to think about him, his son, and so many others that have shared a broken piece of their soul. Yes, this sort of interaction was not a one-off occurrence. You’d be amazed at how many times I’ve stood in line and someone has said to me:
“I just found out that I have cancer.”
“My daughter has been sick for a really long time.”
“My husband just divorced me.”
“The bills just won’t stop coming, and I can’t pay for any of them.”
These have all been cries for help, from people who are looking for connection. And sometimes the best connection you can offer someone is just being present and listening to their story.
That man along with countless others whom I’ve met chose to be vulnerable. He chose to make the worries weighing heavy on his heart vulnerable to my actions. I could have turned away; I could have ignored him; I could have smiled and pretended to try to find something in my purse. But instead, we had a connection. We had a moment in time where we both felt less alone in this world. I helped heal something in his heart, and he helped heal something in mine.
Trust is such a tricky thing. It’s so complex, and it embeds itself into every conversation we have with others. We filter our responses and interactions with a person based on how much we feel we can trust them. This act of diluting our expression happens regardless of how long we’ve known someone – for a day, or for a lifetime; that filtering process happens instinctually. But sometimes we find ourselves begging for connection when the burdens of life hit us, and we will reach out to complete strangers to help us with our pain.
Because in the span of one trip to the grocery store to stock up on chocolate and toothpaste, a stranger taught me so much about my own struggle with vulnerability. He taught me about the gift of trust. And he taught me about the best moments that humanity has to offer. All I had to do was actively see him holding out an olive branch, and receive it.
Sometimes we leave our emotions in a messy heap in our basket, unable to organize them because we’re still overwhelmed by the fact that they exist. And all we can muster is a “Hi” to a stranger, and hope that the stranger looks up, acknowledges us, and says, “Hi, How are you?”.
And when those days find us, we need to know that our mess is okay. Our inability to think clearly is natural, and our asking for help can guide us to the peace we seek.