Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Conversations with strangers

Yesterday I read a wonderful book called "The Alchemist" by Paulo Coelho.  It was originally published in Brazil in 1988 and then translated into english in 1993 so it isn't a new book or anything and maybe some people I know have read it before but I had never heard of it until I saw it on one of those "top books everybody must read" lists that get floated around and are never the same and just the title sounded intriguing. 

It was life-changing.  I almost feel disingenuous making that claim having turned the last page just yesterday after reading the whole thing in one sitting (it is only about 160+ pages) but I completely mean it.  It was beautiful and thought-provoking and I found myself doing some serious soul-searching while I was reading it and in the time since.  To put it succinctly, "The Alchemist" is about a shepherd boy from Andalusia who has a dream that there is a treasure buried at the base of the Egyptian pyramids and after some encounters with strangers he sets off to find his treasure.  Along the way there are numerous omens that he interprets and experiences that he learns from in choosing the path his life with take. 

Anyway, over the past two days I have had random encounters with complete strangers that make me wonder if it is more than just a coincidence that I should have chosen this book to pick up to read from the library just yesterday afternoon.  Not that I am calling these conversations "omens" and not that I am treating them with superstition, but I certainly feel like there has to be some lesson to be learned from these conversations and maybe by my writing this blogpost I will be better able to articulate some of what has been running through my mind. 

The first stranger was a man who was probably in his mid-50's who I met at a deserted activity center near our home called "The Jungle".  It is one of those places with ballpits and plastic tubes and slides and cargo nets for climbing on that are stacked three stories high.  Tuesdays are half-price and I have only been once before when it was packed but for some reason the only people there yesterday were this man and his 2-year old daughter and me and Clara.  While we watched the kids run around and play in the balls and on the equipment, this man and I started talking about raising little girls and he told me about how he raised two sons from a previous marriage and that he had remarried and his new wife is 17 years his junior and so they had this little girl together.  He explained that he retired last year and stays home with their little girl while his wife works.  Then he started asking me whether I stay home with Clara and if she is our only child and whether we would like to have more and I ended up mentioning adoption (no, I didn't go into the whole saga of 2012 but I did mention that we were hoping to adopt again, thinking all the while that maybe I should give him the pass-along card I had in my wallet).

He turned to me and started telling me about how his second son was adopted and what that experience was like for him holding him for the first time and knowing that even though the little boy wasn't biologically related to him that he was without doubt his child.  The boy is now 15 years old and I could still hear the emotion in the stranger's voice as he related that experience to me.  It left me feeling humbled and grateful and thoughtful.  (And gave me the confidence I needed to give him our pass-along card.) 

Then this morning I was at a bi-monthly playgroup held at the Calvary Baptist church in Los Gatos where there were about 100-150 moms/nannies/grandparents there with probably double that number of kids 5 and under and I sat down with Clara at a snack table so that she could have some water and crackers when the only other woman at the table (a mom about my age I would guess, with a 3-year old little boy) looked at me with a smile and then said, nodding to the gymnasium at large and looking grateful to have somebody to confess this too, "Is it just me or is every woman in this room pregnant?"  I was a little taken aback by her question since there was none of the preliminary chatting about each other's kids and their ages or anything but I had noticed it too and I think that she was feeling some relief that I was clearly not expecting and she had someone to have this conversation with.  I sort of demurred but she went right on and explained to me that she and her husband have been trying to have a second child but have had difficulty getting pregnant again. 

I wasn't quite sure how to respond but didn't even get the chance to because just then another woman with neon pink highlights in her pixie haircut joined us sporting a baby bump that indicated imminent arrival of a newborn and her three-year old daughter.  The two women apparently knew each other because the first stranger reiterated her comment to the new stranger as if to draw her into our "conversation" (to which I had contributed almost nothing at this point).  The pregnant stranger then made the confession that she was dreading the impending arrival of her baby because she "can't stand" the newborn stage and thinks that the first 6-8 months are "the worst" (her words).  She gave us a "you-know-how-it-is" look and then declared that she won't ever have to go through pregnancy again though because she is making her husband have "the surgery" so that there won't be any more kids coming their way.  The first woman and I just sort of stared at each other uncomfortably and then Clara jumped off my lap and ran across the gym so I sort of just excused myself with a "nice-meeting-you-both" and left feeling unsettled by the strange, short dialogue that I had just been a part of.

And now Clara is napping and I am mulling over the three very different perspectives combined with my own experiences with infertility and adoption and mothering.  It is unusual for me to have conversations with complete strangers because typically my schedule is fairly routine with church, gym, errands, and play-dates.  So maybe that is why I am sitting here feeling - I don't know what - flummoxed, maybe?  I guess I was wrong when I said earlier that maybe writing this blogpost would help me articulate what was in my mind because I just don't even know what to say about this other than it has got me thinking about perspective and the many, many different experiences people have with parenthood. 


  1. Beautiful post. Meaningful encounters with seemingly random strangers reminds me of this quote from Elder Neal A. Maxwell: “The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well.” So fun playing with you guys today. :)

  2. Definitely an interesting book to read amongst what you are going through and the coincidental conversations you've been having. I'm glad you liked it! It's always interesting because the book did nothing for me, but maybe I was not in a point if my life where it would?

  3. Beautiful, Amy! I love reading posts like these on blogs. When we share our hearts with each other. Thank you.


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