Strangers and the Funny Papers

stack of newspapers - image by congerdesign from Pixabay

I am thirsty.

Not for water or coffee or tea but for conversation.

And I’m not talking about the weather or the plague or politics. I’m talking about deep listening. The kind of conversation where I feel I know the other person better, that person knows me better, and I know myself better.

It has been a long time.

I know I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Seattle rains have ceased as we move into summer, and I’ve been taking my book down to Lake Washington in the afternoons to read. I’ll find a pleasant park bench overlooking the sparkling water, where the sailboats sound like wind chimes as they bounce in the water.

With mask mandates relaxing, my face is bare, open, soaking up sunshine, and passing out smiles. Every. Single. Time. I go out to the water to read; a stranger will come up to me to talk. Sometimes the visitor asks what I am reading, and other times the stranger points out a bald eagle sitting in a nearby tree or how clearly we can see Mount Rainier. Although the interactions are short, maybe five minutes at the most, I sense others feel the same as I do. After a year of solitude, after a year of masks disconnecting us from people right next to us, we want to talk.

I think we want to see goodness in each other again. This past year we began to view each other as the enemy. But now, with our faces open, we see the Imago Dei, the image of God, shine out of our being.

We are no longer disembodied images on a screen or faces hidden behind masks, but humans reflecting the image of our Maker. This is reminding us how to treat one another, each one as someone precious, as someone God loves.

I don’t know how to take the conversation from surface to deep with a stranger or even my own friends. I want to fill that need in both of us to connect and really see each other again. But I am willing to be open, to be present. I think this is why strangers keep coming up to me. They sense that.

Yesterday, an older man, nearly 80, in an old red flannel and shoeshine-boy cap, approached me on my park bench to ask me how to catch the bus home. He lived near me, not a mile from the lake, for 15 years but had never been down to it. His sister suggested he get out of his apartment after a year of being cooped in, to see the lake and soak in some sunshine. He told me he spent a glorious hour working on the newspaper crossword puzzle. I pointed him to the nearest bus stop, and after a few minutes of chit-chat, we said goodbye. As he walked away, he stopped and looked back at me. “Would you like my funny papers?” he asked, holding up the newspaper. Our talk was short, but we had laughed, smiled, listened, and he had felt seen for the first time in a year. Of course, I wanted his funny papers. He brought them over and double tapped me on the shoulder with them before setting them down on the bench. They were a gift.

Image by congerdesign from Pixabay.


  1. Thank you Shemaiah for this beautiful and meaningful reflection. Indeed you remind once again that human beings are made in the image and likeness of the divine. Your explanation is truly consoling. God bless.

  2. Such a beautiful reflection. It made me cry. So thank you – and thank you to Sister Marie Julie for pointing out why.

  3. What a sweet story! Yes we have all shared the horror of this last year. Hopefully this shared experience will help remind us that we are all children of our One Father. Shemaiah, I look forward to more of your reflections.

  4. Lovely writing, lovely images. What surprised me during the pandemic, as an introvert, was how much I missed small talk with strangers: at the grocery, waiting for an elevator, all those quotidian interactions that bind us together, however briefly. I didn’t realize how much they meant until they were out of reach.

  5. Beatiful article, fantastic comments. How true, how real, how poignant. Food for thought for the start of Summer and the rest of the year. Many thanks,

  6. Great story and so true, thanks for sharing. I recently rejoined our book club in person, we spent about 30 min talking about the book and 3 hours (really!) talking about life, kids, menopause, just about everything it was great to reconnect.

    And Sister Marie Julie – what a lovely written comment, I’m sure you are a poet as well.

  7. I loved this reflection and shared it with my son and daughter-in-law who live in Seattle, not too far from Lake Washington. Thank you.

  8. Beautiful and all truth. Even before this past year I felt we were all beginning to disconnect due to the world’s pull. The pandemic took that and ran with it. Yet, how much we need one another. Thank you for expressing it so well.

  9. I know what you mean about deep conversations. I was lucky to be able to talk with my mom for most of my life before she passed away. I’ve heard it said that some people talk about people, some talk about things, but few talk about ideas. That’s what we did. My favorite ideas to talk about revolve around my spirituality- deep stuff. I guess I’m spoiled for having had mom to talk to. Maybe we should chat sometime; this reply will have to do for now. Keep the faith.

  10. Shemaiah, how did you gather, in fewer than 100 lines of poetry, the ache and the glory of the then and the now of this pandemic?
    The Imago Dei sets fire to your words so it becomes more than a summer afternoon’s anecdote by reaching into the soul of every soul to lay bare our Good Friday and our Resurrection day.
    Thank you for this reflection of diamonds on the lake of our human experience. Truly the presence of the Lord is here.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here