Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful #9

This is Zak.

I met Zak last September when I was enjoying a Clarion West reunion brunch with a handful of classmates, incomparable and beautiful folks all.

Zak works in a quirky Seattle cafe as a server, and while his numerous facial piercings caught my eye, it was his gentle manner that I found charming. I let him know I thought him beautiful, a compliment he accepted with grace.

Have you encountered someone amazing today, an individual with a unique style, or someone whose complexity shines through an otherwise ordinary exterior?

Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #8

This beautiful woman I met in Tampa exuded a sweet and open spirit. Plus, face-paint and a kitten! Sadly, I was so enamored of the kitten that I failed to catch her name.

I haven’t approached many women while collecting for this series, as I’ve said. Sometimes it’s just nerves, and once, it backfired (I think).

At a pub this weekend in LA, I said to a curvy, confident server (who was not classically pretty but beautiful in a tough, alt-girl kid of way), “You are just drop-dead sexy!” Before skittering away, she thanked me. She was clearly mortified, and maybe she should have been. Although I meant it sincerely, “sexy” is not the best way to compliment someone you don’t know, for lots of reasons.

I didn’t ask her for a photo. Dual-reinforcing mortification. But I learned a bit from that encounter.

Stay tuned, and if you like, send me your beautiful photos.

Tell A Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #7

Today, I’m mixing it up a little. Take a look at this adventurous, ambitious project in progress called Perfect Stranger L.A., created by freelance journalist Caitlin M. Foyt. Her project is designed to showcase the extraordinary diversity of L.A., and it demonstrates, too, I think, the beauty of everyday people.

Perfect Stranger hasn’t been updated in a couple of months, but the archives are full of interesting people, as well as detailed stories created from interviews. I particularly liked the story of this young man.

Have you encountered a stranger with an interesting story to tell?




photo attribution: Perfect Stranger L.A.


Tell A Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #6

I met John a few weeks ago in a public park overlooking a bay. We were both sitting on benches looking out over the water, but for very different reasons.

I was waiting for a museum to open. John is homeless.

I watched him for a while before I approached. The park was quiet in the early morning, and joggers and dog-walkers passed us. John hailed each person with a friendly greeting, and three different people stopped to chat with him, shaking hands or sitting on the bench next to him for a few minutes. The conversations seemed animated and genuine, and many of the passers-by obviously knew John.

When we spoke, John’s demeanor was kind. He said he enjoys speaking with people and “spreading love.” He also expressed his joy to be alive, in spite of his circumstances.

My morning in the park started as an “artist’s holiday,” one of contemplative introspection and more than a little pampering of my creative spirit. I was delighted to share in a lengthy conversation with John about religion and personal faith and humbled by the stark contrast between my level of privilege and his.

There’s a lot of complexity in this situation, a great deal more to tell than I’ve said, and I’m writing this in a rush today. But John’s philosophy of life, his existential yet faith-centered outlook, made an impression on me. He’s a beautiful person who seems to share my feelings about beauty, of the inherent worth and dignity of every person (a UU principle).

How do you feel about the differences you encounter with strangers? How does difference color your interactions?

Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #5

I hope you’re enjoying these posts. I enjoy creating them, especially the discoveries that compel me to slow down and bear witness to life in the midst of my own joys and sorrows.

Meet Jim.

I met Jim outside a bail bonds shop next to the lovely little cafe I’d just exited, where I’d been enjoying a tall, cold soda after my long bike ride through an historical district. I’d seen him walk by as I sat in the cafe, and I felt prompted to approach him when I noticed him outside.

As can be seen in the photo, Jim is a snappy dresser. He was wearing all black and cowboy boots and had a glittery belt buckle with western bolo tie to match (what you can’t see is the silver, tex-mex-style band on his hat.

But what I liked most about Jim was his expressive, wrinkled face and deep ebony skin tone. I think people get so caught in up modern beauty myths revolving around youthfulness that the inherent beauty of aging faces gets overlooked. I was reminded of this recently when I saw this Annie Lebovitz portrait at an exhibit.

When I approached Jim, he was busy with a hammer and ladder outside the bail bonds shop.  I asked him what he was doing.

“Well, what does it look like I’m doing?” he replied. His voice startled me, as he sounded for all the world like John Wayne. I kid you not. It was so affecting that I wanted to keep him talking. We spoke for a few moments, during which he explained that he was repairing a sign for the shop, and he agreed to pose (somewhat dramatically) for a photo.

I’m meeting the most interesting people as I collect photos for this weekly post. I’d love to hear about your experiences and even see your photos.

Happy Tuesday!

Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #4

Meet Karl.

I encountered him on a plane, during the second leg of a long trip. Just as I fastened my seatbelt, he turned to me and said, “So, you headed home?”

I’ll admit that I’d rather not talk at length with strangers, especially on planes. No escaping, no “Well, I’ve got to get going, now. Nice talking with you.” But since I started creating these posts, I’ve come to feel differently about chance meetings. Every person I experience has the potential to change my life (and some REALLY have, thankfully).

So, I gave Karl a bit of my time. In fact, we spent the entire trip, which was more than two hours, talking about where we grew up, our hobbies and personal pet peeves, and our relationships. I found myself thinking that my parents probably don’t know this much about my current life!

Eventually, the conversation turned to politics, religion and the bootstrap myth. Both Karl and I had grown up poor, but we had very different viewpoints, particularly about that troubling boogeyman called Socialism. In spite of a few tense moments when Karl looked as though he regretted striking up conversation with me, the talk was very congenial.

As the plane coasted down the runway to a perfect landing at our destination, Karl said, “It was nice to talk with you, even though we didn’t agree on everything. It’d be great if more people could talk like this. Maybe the world wouldn’t have so many problems.”

That’s when I told Karl he was beautiful.

Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #3

The Lebanese poet and novelist Kahlil Gibran writes,

“Beauty is not in the face; Beauty is a light in the heart.”

When I encounter beautiful strangers, I think it is to this light I am responding, the reason I feel compelled to compliment unique individual people, my own little Namaste.

During recent travels, I encountered a lovely, unique person in the expansive paradise that is Powell’s City of Books in Portland, Oregon. I was wandering the stacks with a friend when we found ourselves discussing metaphysical texts, and a passing stranger joined in our conversation.

For me, allowing myself to open my heart to the beauty of another person requires a shift into a certain mindset, a sense of wonder and appreciation of the inherent goodness, dignity and worth of others. In the midst of a hectic day, say, at work or in line at the bank, this appreciation is harder to come by. However, the setting for this particular encounter was completely conducive to open mind and heart.

Powell’s, this specific location, is a marvel.  Level after level of stacks present to the eye, in a seemingly unending number of rooms, up and down staircases, all color coded to guide the visitor to his/her desire. As a first-time patron, I had already spent serious time drifting wide-eyed from room to room, stopping to ooh-and-ahh every few feet. The City knows the captivating power of its vastness:

“Any minute now an owl will swoop out of the ceiling, snatch a paperback from one of the Endcaps, and make off to read in peace somewhere in Reference. Owls live here, you can sense it.”

So, this was a lovely encounter with a stranger, who is indeed beautiful, in awe-inspiring setting. We talked for a long time, a spirited and intelligent conversation, and before we parted ways, both my companion and I felt compelled to tell Jeremy how beautiful he is.

Have you told anyone they’re beautiful today?

Tell A Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday #2

Today is Tuesday, and time to tell a stranger they’re beautiful!

This is Candi, also known as Lady Firestone, who I met a week ago at a local Beltane celebration.

Isn’t she beautiful? She was happy to hear the compliment and posed for this photo for me just after we’d both enjoyed watching folks dance the maypole in celebration of the spirit of love and unity in nature.

I realized before taking this that it’s been easier for me to approach men with compliments than women, and I’ve been wondering why that is (this is actually the fifth photo I’ve collected in connection with this project). As women, we have difficulty accepting compliments sometimes; our relationships with our bodies aren’t always healthy and are complicated by conflicting social and media messages. This also complicates our relationships with one another. I think my own insecurities and concerns have made it less comfortable to approach women, who in turn may be more likely to feel uncomfortable with my compliments.

What do you think?

Don’t forget to tell someone that they’re beautiful today! I’d love to hear about it.

Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful Tuesday

One day a few weeks ago, the boredom of my day job (which I’ve since left) resulted in a singular moment of discovery: the people around me were beautiful, each in his or her own way, and I had the luxury of experiencing their beauty. My boss, my co-workers, customers. Each person there had been loved or is loved by someone (one hopes). I found myself looking through the eyes of love, and perhaps through my writer’s eyes, too, seeing each individual as a unique character with a story to tell.

I know this may sound pollyanna. And I know the title says “they” to refer to individual people (I want to use the generic plural pronoun here, even if the English teacher in me cringes at the mismatch). I’m putting aside both of those considerations. Joy and connection is to be found intentional moments, if we allow ourselves.

I felt compelled that day to tell at least one person that he/she is beautiful, to share my experience of the moment and to hopefully uplift a spirit.

I didn’t catch the name of this gentleman, but I told him he was beautiful and complimented his gorgeous beard. The exchange brought a broad smile to his face. He asked if I would be posting the photo on Facebook, and while I don’t use FB, the exchange moved me to begin a weekly post called Tell a Stranger They’re Beautiful. The posts may be about the individual, sometimes just a photo, or a few words about them depending on what I’m able to learn. I’m also interested to see how the act of approaching strangers will effect me.

Have you ever complimented a total stranger? It’s Tuesday, give it a try and tell me how it went.