Photo by Melissa O’Brien

It’s a question that gets asked in interviews, by the curious: What gets you out of bed in the morning? It certainly seems a fair way to discern what it is one cares about. To what your heart is tethered? Beyond the obligatory heed to the alarm, tend to the kids, walk the dog, get to work…what is just cause to face another day on a melting planet ruled by greedy warlords?

I’ve tried almost everything in this life: marriage (twice), motherhood (thrice), education (three degrees). I have scaled mountains and jumped from planes, walked on glaciers and seen the northern lights. I have swum (which I think sounds better than swam) with barracuda and little sea creatures that light up. I have fallen to the depths of alcoholic despair and risen back to the joy and light of sobriety. I’ve made friends with Native Indians and homeless addicts; I know someone who knows someone who boards horses for the Queen. I have been a preacher, teacher, this, that and the other, you know the drill.

I’ve seen some stuff, done some things. I’ve seen babies born and I’ve watched people take their last breath. I’ve seen ghosts, bears, bald eagles, the Grateful Dead 33 times, the New York City Ballet 29. I remember the first home computers, the first mountain bikes; I remember when my friend Lars brought one of the earliest Burton snowboards—one that had a leash with a handle—back to school after winter break. We all thought these new things were a little crazy, a little weird, when we first encountered them. Look at us now.

I know enough to know it’s not always easy to find a reason to rise, let alone shine, each morning. I have seen the deterioration of the flesh, the loneliness of the elderly; it gets harder, not easier over time.
Here’s what I have come to know as one of the best reasons to enter fearlessly into a new day: You haven’t met everyone yet, and everyone has an interesting story.

Case in point: the other day I was out for a sandwich with my beloved Helen and I said hello to the elderly gent exiting his car. I’m always a little worried guys like him are going to topple over, so I tend to gravitate toward them. It turned out he had graduated from St. Lawrence, too, 40 or so years before I did. And he told me that when he was there it was a UU seminary, which I never knew. I graduated from that place and eventually became a pastor and I never even know its history! I was delighted and embarrassed at the same time.

Red-shirted gent and I had some funny stories to share about that wonderful little place over in Canton, N.Y. It got better: He had spent his working days as a Methodist minister. I had so many questions, like …how do I get through the hard days of being a pastor? What do you do to keep going even you really want to quit? He laughed—of course he could laugh, he’s been retired from preaching for 30 years.

Bill is his name. He gave me his phone number and soon I’m going to go sit with him and ask him the thousand other questions. I can’t wait to hear more of his SLU stories. I can’t wait to hear what it was like to be a Methodist minister in New York City 50 years ago.

So, just like that, a simple Hello! How are you doing today? and you have a new friend in the world. Which is good because it’s hard, you know, the world. It’s hard, some days. Take a worthy risk today while you’re out there in the world and say hello to a stranger.