“Go out into the world today and love the people you meet. Let your presence light new light in the hearts of people” — Mother Teresa.
“How are you doing today, sir?”
“Fine”, he nodded and said without making too much eye-contact.
I sat down in a chair next to him. “Do you usually come to this laundromat?”
“No, I go to the one on Cortez, but it was closed, something was wrong, so I was quite upset to have to come all this way to do my laundry.”
When I heard that, I was so excited! How wonderful that the one day this man visited this laundromat, our “Pop Up Neighbor” event was taking place.
“So, were you surprised to arrive and find this event happening here?”
“Yes, I was surprised, but I had already started my laundry by the time it began.”
I admit I was a little disappointed by that answer, but I continued our conversation. “Well, there is a nice buffet over there, I hope you will help yourself to some food, and we’ll make sure we pay for your dryer.”
He nodded again, still looking at the washing machines in front of him, not at me, but I noticed he was timidly smiling. I continued to talk to him because I wanted to make a genuine connection and show him what we were there to truly be a good neighbor, to show care and love, to share life stories, and find the commonalities that unite us as human beings. I really wanted to know more about him.
The journalist in me came out, and I started asking several questions…
He lives in Bradenton, and has nine children, all grown-ups.
“Any grandchildren?” I asked.
“Yes”, he replied.
Perfect! This was my opportunity to share more about the work that I love as an Engagement Team member for the Suncoast Campaign for Grade-Level Reading. I could tell him about Vroom, and Mind in the Making, both tools he might be able to use as a grandparent.
Soon, he was questioning me.
“I hear an accent. Where are you from?”
He was looking more towards my direction, making more eye-contact.
“I am from Spain”
“Oh! I used to work with a guy from Spain,” he said.
My heart swelled a bit because here they were, the commonalities I was hoping to find.
“But he left. He said he missed his family too much.”
“I can totally relate. Do you remember which city he was from?”
“No, no I don’t,” and after a short pause he asked, “What are you doing here?”
I smiled. It is a very good question. “Opportunities,” I answered, and then I told him about my country, about the economic situation that brought me here, about the huge difference in cultures, about the shock I experienced when I first arrived eight years ago, about missing my family.
“You should go back,” he said in a caring tone.
We had found our commonalities. We are neighbors in this community, living life in very different spaces, and still, we found our commonalities. This man has nine children, and he heard the importance of family in my voice.
“You should go back,” he repeated.
I smiled. I nodded. And I found myself blessed. Blessed to have the opportunity to meet this man, to connect with him. Blessed to be able to work with and in this unique community. Blessed to be part of the first “Pop Up Neighbor” laundry event that led me to meet him – a neighbor I don’t usually see.
“Who knows? Maybe one day,” I said looking into his eyes – happy, because everything I have been though had led me to this moment in which, I hope, I was a light in his heart, as he was in mine. Then, I looked around and saw other conversations taking place, other connections, other hearts and smiles lighting up the room, and I knew without a doubt we were all better for our experiences as Pop Up Neighbors.