Essential Strangers

By: Gabriela Yareliz

Thoughts in the AM:

There is a barista whose efficiency and chipper attitude brought sunshine to our days in the summer of 2020 (those were dark days, y’all. People had bubble wrapped their windows and duct taped their doors shut). It’s funny because at first, I thought this barista was a jerk, but then I saw method to his madness, and he grew friendly with us. I misjudged him. My boyfriend and I would peer into the window to see if he was there. Hell, we ordered once simply because he saw us, waved, remembered my boyfriend’s name, and told us our order would be ready in 2 minutes. (We figured since he assumed we had ordered, we might as well give him something to do). This kid became a fixture in our lives. And then, he disappeared.

I saw him today at Starbucks. He is back at a different location. Our eyes met, and I was trying to figure out if it was him, since every time I see him, he looks different. It was him, but by the time I figured that out he was eyeing me like I was some stalker. It’s weird when everyone is masked to the eyeballs. It’s like, WHO ARE YOU?!

My point is not to talk about how some poor barista will probably soon get a restraining order against me. I should say ‘hi’ at some point and explain why I was staring and that I am glad he is back (that place falls apart without that guy).

My point is that we have to say ‘thank you.’ I will the next time I see him. There are people who brighten our day. They are those “Linchpins” that Seth Godin describes. Indispensable. They are at the top of their game and because they go above and beyond, they make a difference and become a part of your life. A good part. There are strangers who do that. I think of them as Essential Strangers. They become a part of our routines and our lives, and maybe we’d have more if we stopped and told them how much we appreciate them.

Later that PM:

Guys, I decided to do this because a) it makes a good social experiment; b) expressing gratitude is important; and c) this is how we turn things into habits. We shouldn’t just talk about things, but we should do them. I ordered an afternoon refresher and wrote out a ‘thank you’ note from me and my boyfriend to him just simply explaining that we were grateful for him (our star barista), we are glad to know he is ok and that his kindness and good work ethic is appeciated. Simple. I tucked it in the back pocket of my jeans and marched out to the cafe. I picked up my refresher, made by one of the more inefficient baristas of the bunch (your whole drink is ice, basically– even when you ask for no ice), but the barista I was looking for was nowhere in sight.

Damn, I missed him, I thought. I walked out with my drink and figured I would just throw it in the bottomless pit that is my purse and give it to him the next time I stumbled upon him. Then, I saw him on the sidewalk (I kid you not), walking toward the bus stop. He was there, apronless. I called out his name, and he turned around. He had a puzzled expression. I explained to him that my boyfriend and I appreciated him and that we saw him regularly last summer, and he smiled remembering. I handed him the card and he fist bumped me and told me it meant a lot. I quickly turned to find my way back home because I am not about to get a restraining order.

He may think I am certifiably nuts, but it’s nice to say ‘thank you’ to those who make a difference. In these times where we have been stripped of so much, I think I needed that. We all need reminders of that which is magical in life. I said this on the Nas-Talgia podcast (Listen here: “The All-American [Brown] Girl” episode), where I had a blast with my friend Naseem. We were discussing A Little Princess, and I said, “I really do think it calls attention to a lot of the things that can be magical in life, and that includes also kindness.” I stand by that. Kindness is part of the magic in life.

As we discovered in the pandemic, essential workers and people who go out there to interact with others in not-so-easy circumstances don’t all look alike, and yet they all do a lot for us.

Here is my challenge for you– get a little crazy. Kidding. But seriously, find an essential worker or someone you encounter routinely who makes a difference in your life. Say ‘thank you’ with something tangible. Be an Essential Stranger yourself. Make a difference. Keep kindness and gratitude flowing, always.

“Kindness is part of the magic in life.”

Published by Gabriela Yareliz

Gabriela is a writer, editor and attorney. She loves the art of storytelling, and she is based in NYC.

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