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"Who the hell are you?"

"Do I know you?"  more frequently phrased as "Have we met before?" is a question my mother asks nearly everyday as the faces from her past now blend with those of the present.  It is always entertaining to watch the ensuing polite but persistent argument between mom and her acquaintance. "No I don't think we have."  ..."Yes. Yes, I am sure we have. I just am not sure where - what is your name?" After returning their name and a polite, "No, I don't think we know each other, but I am pleased meet you." My mother again assures them that they definitely have previously met.  Now how long this dialogue continues is completely dependant upon how important it is to the unsuspecting new comer to convince my mother of her err. Never one to admit defeat, mom always gets the last word as she comforts them with  "Well, it's ok if you can't remember, I don't remember most things these days." 

I have been engaged in a very similar dialogue with myself as of late.  Well, to be completely honest it might be more accurately phrased "Who the hell are you?" as I look in the mirror after a particularly "bad mom day" or "bad wife day" or simply a "bad day - day".  I know that even though I may not speak the phrase (most of the time) I certainly think it when my husband or teenage children have a personality morph right before my eyes.

As I had obviously spent some time considering this the past couple of weeks I decided to inquire of my family and friends as to their own dialogue along these lines. I found that all of them could relate to my conversations with myself and that they also had some other great insights.  For instance, those in the twenty-something category all agreed that others offering their unsolicited and unappreciated advice and opinions received the mental "and who the hell are you?"  My children were certain that it was actually my own personality morph not theirs hence a "who the hell are you? right back at you" look.

It was my husband who brought up another more "peaceful" side of this universal exchange.  The concept of approachability. He has also watched my mother completely confound new acquaintances with her insistence that they have previously met.  However, he also noticed that they were people that were "approachable", people who she associated with a past positive experience in her life. 

Shortly after this conversation we experienced the following exchange at a restaurant.  In the middle of dinner a man who had been sitting at a table across the room the from us walked over and placed his hand on my husband's shoulder and asked, "Are you a Johnson?" responding with a smile "Actually, No. No, I'm not." My husband then put the man at ease with a brief conversation that ended with the realization that it was actually one of our daughter's he had met a couple of years previous at a church activity.  Small world.  That daughter was sitting with us at the table - he didn't recognize her at all.

Hmmm...is there a lesson here to be learned?  I have been told that I can be unapproachable.  Really??  Is that why the my mental query is "Who the hell are you?" versus the much more approachable, "Have we met before?"  Have we met before's come when you don't just pass by those around you. They require a closer look - just to be certain.  Have we met before's are actually all about connection. 

It is my mother's desire for connection with others - a personal connection - that draws her to them in inquiry.  It brings joy to her and I can see it in the eyes of those willing to engage. Many days it is a foggy path my family travels with my mom.  Often I think that I must take the lead, and yet, again and again she is the teacher.  She is the one who shows us where Peace can be found along the wayside. 

I  decided I needed to on work on converting my "Who the hell are you's" into "Have we met before's" That very same day I recieved this text from my daughter away at school:

I smiled as I considered how appropriate "Have we met before?" seemed. 

And again a few days later as she returned from the local Rainbow Festival with her friends I recieved this picture text.  If you ran into this trio on the street what would you ask?  Believe me you'd be missing out if it wasn't "Have we met before?"

My husband I continued to consider the many opportuities we have for connection with those around us each day - and how many of them we let simply pass us by.  I remembered how frequently complete strangers would rub my belly in the grocery store check out line.  (Having been pregnant six times, this was a considerable amount of unsolicited connection).  Then as if on cue I received this picture text from another daughter:

Once again "Have we met before?" came to my mind.  Was it possible that my baby was actually having her baby number two?  It was then Peace whispered to me "Remember?" and I recalled the joy of being witness to her as a big sister connecting with an as of yet unborn sibling.  Was she thinking "Have we met before?"

Evidently puppies don't understand the concept of "Who the hell are you?" at all.Scout, our newest family member, meets each person who crosses his path throughout the day with an enthusiastic "Have we met before?"  He is a "Connection Magnet."  Spending his days with me at the office, our walks take us through an area with a fair amount of street people.  It seems the more down and out they are the more likely they are to connect with my furry companion. They are always kind, and friendly, and more than willing to share their pet memories. I can see that this "Have we met before?" moment takes them back to a better place and time in their lives.

My oldest son, Taylor, served his mission for our church in New York City.  He spent his days serving the people on the streets of that massive city.  People from all over the world.  Walking without fear in those inner city buildings where even the police would tell them that they were not safe. What was he thinking - a white boy in those neighborhoods?  And yet, he knew he was perfectly safe.  He was their to connect, to serve, to love and that transformed every "Who the hell are you?" into "Have we met before?"  My son wanted us to meet these people who had become his extended family.  

It was Mother's Day in 2009 when my husband and I came to pick him up and bring him home. We rode the Subway from Manhattan to East Brooklyn.  When we arrived at the platform Taylor wasn't there yet.  I called his cell phone and asked him if we should walk and meet him.  His reply was brief.  "Absolutely not.  Stay there I'm half a block away."  We stayed and looked out over the streets through a small window near the stairs.  Then in the distance I saw him. "Have we met before?" came to my mind.  Wasn't it a mere boy just out of high school we left at the airport?  Wait, had two years passed so quickly?   

We were to walk a few blocks to the church for a dinner his New York family had prepared in celebration of our arrival.  As we traveled the short distance I kept looking ahead for the church.  It was then Taylor stopped and said "Here we are."  It was an old brick building, no different than those all around us, except for the absence of grafitti.  A simple sign on the exterior was the only evidence that behind the aged door to our left was a church.  As the door closed behind us our surroundings were no longer foreign.  Indeed, a beautiful church was awaiting us inside.  In the kitchen food had been kept warm awaiting our arrival.  

The metal folding chairs we sat in that evening were truly seats of honor.  The meal was simple with the flare of the diverse ethic backgrounds of those in attendance.  They were giving us their very best. It was Mother's Day - would I have made the same sacrafice for someone else's son?  It was one of the children's birthday - that dinner was his party.  A service dog sat at my feet, his owner next to me a vietnam veteran, who told me my son had saved his life. There was laughter and tears and stories all around.  I was grateful for this "family" who had loved my son so well.  "Have we met before?" was in my heart that night.  Peace in it's most humble form was at the table with us for dinner.

The next day Taylor took us to the apartment of a homebound elderly woman he had grown to love deeply.  She wasn't there.  He couldn't understand why she would be gone.  We left and visited a few others.  On our way back he asked if we would mind stopping by the local hospital.  It was the only place he could think of where she might be.  Taylor went to the information desk and his fear was confirmed - she was there.  We rode the eleveator up to her floor.  My words can not express the joy on this woman's face when she saw my son in the doorway.  She was all alone there.  She told us God had brought her an angel that day. My son gently slid her over in the hospital bed and climbed up next to her to say goodbye.  They both knew it would be the last time they would connect on this earth.  As I reflect upon this moment I can still hear the distant whisper, "Have we met before?" 

I don't have the answers to many of the questions I find myself considering.  However, I know for sure that the question "Have we met before?" is a much more generous way to approach life.  It is a question Peace often will ask of you.  Always approachable and yet requiring a review of past interactions before you can make the determination that "Yes. Yes, I'm certain that we have.  I'm just not sure where - what is your name?" 

And therein lies the beginning of a great conversation.


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