Stranger 24, Day 24 – Meet Jacqui, the “Explorer”

Stranger 24, Day 24 - Meet Jacqui

Picking out a Stranger is a little bit of judging and a little bit of just-do-it and a wee-bit of this-person-seems-open-enough. Today’s Stranger, I wasn’t quite ready to meet a Stranger as I was buckling down on some writing for work, but a woman next to me spoke a few words to me about a situation that happened next to us. It was pretty basic, but it actually gave me this nudge to ask her to be the Stranger interview for today.

Funny enough, I had pulled up a chair to work behind her a few minutes earlier. As I moved my chairs, she actually glanced in my direction a few times before shifting where she was sitting. I felt like I offended her in some way before she told me she was uncomfortable with people sitting behind her. She was writing in a book and abruptly rotated her chair which triggered in my mind, “yeah, she probably wouldn’t be a good candidate to talk to for a Stranger post.” So simple, but that’s where my mind went only for me to reverse that thinking and ask her just minutes later because she spoke to me out-of-the-blue.

… and boy was I happy I got a chance to meet her.

Meet Jacqui, 47

Who are you?

Jacqui starts laughing.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out right now. My husband passed away 4.5 years ago, so I could say widow, but don’t that fits anymore… or if it ever really did. I’m a writer, too. But also, a ‘health communications specialist for the government’.” She talks about how she is reading different books including one about having a day job different from a passion and hobby — the importance of giving both different “breathes”.

She goes back to asking herself, “Who am I?” and laughs again. She’s unsure for a moment.

“An explorer, an adventurer… don’t like the word ‘intellectual’, but a thinker. I’m in a weird position as a 47-year-old woman — not a wife, not a mother. So sometimes it’s hard to figure out where you fit. I’m fairly grateful for the freedom I have.”

She shares how she did not have a “conventional family growing up”. She did on paper, but cites the “abusive, alcoholic family” she grew up in. Jacqui jumps into how her upbringing without having the expectations of a supportive family has made her more self-reliant.

At this point, Jacqui’s actually going in several different directions including how she values conversations like she and I are having right now. I’m happy to let it flow from here and the next question…

Why are you open to these types of conversations? What makes these conversations unique and special?

Jacqui remarks how she believes many people live certain lives that they’re happy with, but they are not the type of life she wants for herself. Jacqui shares how traveling opens her life up — “it’s like pulling a string on a sweater” and how “you do one thing and you discover five other things. It’s all part of the quest and the great part of life. I love to learn and continuing to explore. There’s just so much… people can always surprise you. There are so many types of people.”

She goes on to share, “I didn’t really learn what love really was till I became an adult because I learned a lot of wrong things.” She shares how she is more comfortable exploring and living life on her own, and partly because she never grew up in a life where the familial unit was so important that her life revolved around the family unit.

She describes her value of time as a “primal reaction” given her upbringing and the loss of her husband 4.5 years ago. She’s been able to recover and still live life despite trauma — “neuro plasticity”. She’s thankful for being able to recover and not let these difficult moment define her.

Jacqui goes on to share how her golden retriever that passed away recently was a great “reliever” for her. She had many PTSD symptoms, and was thankful for her dog to be her comfort dog. Now, she has a golden retriever puppy that she wants to train to be a comfort dog for others. She tells me how she wants to take her new puppy to hospitals to help others grieve and to enjoy “the good times. Nothing good or bad lasts forever.”

Jacqui shares how she views much of society as very much in instant gratification mode, and how technology gives us so many options that sometimes, we see too many other opportunities. We can move on if we run into trouble, and we lack an ability to “handle it” (it being difficult situations).

We’re laughing together now as she laments going back into the dating pool, especially online dating.

What’s a Life Lesson you’d like to share given your travails?

“Don’t worry so much about the future — you have no control over it. I don’t mean that in the ominous way. I mean it’s very freeing. I just get up and try to do the best I can everyday. You just have today.”

She then talks about how she spoke with a dog owner walking his 13-year-old dog earlier today. They were talking for a while before talking to him about the importance of enjoying the time he has now with his dog. His dog is older, and the owner realizes this “impending moment”. As she thinks about this, tears start to well up in Jacqui’s eyes behind her sunglasses.

She goes on, “there’s nothing in our lives that lasts forever except for ourselves.” I’m thinking about what she’s telling me, and there’s a hint of gloom to it. I think about myself and how a lack of expectations and attachment has a way of limiting my enjoyment in life… or even desire. So I ask her…

How do you balance that? (Balance this notion of “inevitability” and “expectation or want”)

“I’m working to getting to know who I am. I’m learning self-care.” She admits that she thought being self-caring was selfishness before, but realizing that there’s a big difference. She needs to learn to love herself.

“You’re going to be with yourself your whole life! There aren’t that many others who will be. Not in a negative way, but it’s just reality. So I got an early glimpse of that before most.” This last comment was about the death of her husband — 10 days after her birthday.

“It was pretty terrifying. I liked not knowing how quickly my life can change at any given moment.”

“I think people would be kinder to one another if they knew that might be the last time you might see someone. I think people would treat each other very differently. So many people have so much going on that they don’t share with the world. Everybody has something that weighs heavy on them. We need to be just kinder.”

Is there something that a lot of people don’t know that you wish they would?

“I’m a pretty open book.” However, I realize that there’s a difference between being open and people knowing.

She’s thinking about everything going on, and confesses that she’s introverted but trying to “correct this with closer friends and some family members. Even though they all tell me lovely thing about how strong I am since this happened and how amazing I am and… I just have always been…” She tells me a story about how as a baby, her parents never knew when she was awake because she never cried. She tells me this because she admits that “that’s my temperment. But I think because of it, people don’t realize how much I’m hurting and also I’m a recovering people-pleaser, so I don’t always tell them. I love to put a smile on someone’s face and leave them that way.”

So how do you wish would know? How would someone be able to help when you’re hurting?

“I’d have to be vulnerable.”

Do you give off subtle cues for your friends to know when you’re hurting?

She tells me how her closest friends can see right through her, and she starts crying with them. She then starts wiping away tears realizing that she’s hitting that point with me.

She shares how she’s here journaling because she just sold her house in Virginia that she owned with her husband. Meanwhile, her dog recently passed away, and her friend just had a wedding. So for her, she admits that she’s in a difficult time. She shares how that when she’s crying, you know it’s the truth.

“I’m an honest person, but I don’t think I’m honest about myself sometimes. Like there’s a facade.” She’s crying more, and I feel sorry but also happy that she’s sharing. It’s clear she wants to share, and I’m happy to be someone she can share with.

She also wonders if people are used to seeing me with others crying… The answer is no. haha

Jacqui then shares a great story… she received a condolence card about the death of her dog from several friends from high school. Her high school classmates had their 30th reunion to which she could not attend due to her dog’s death. It was really nice to have received a card signed by so many of her old classmates, but she admits that she is still unused to that type of support because she still does not get that even from her family.

Before moving on, I had a quick question I wanted to interject — would you like a hug?

“Of course!” and so we hugged.

We laughed some more and talked about other things including our backgrounds.

“Life will continue to have its heavy moment, but I feel like I’ve probably had a good share of them, and it’s probably time for some lighter stuff.” She laughs and awaits my next question.

Where are 3 places you’d like to go see before you die, or 3 things you’d like to do? (Thanks to Erin, Stranger 23)

“I really want to go to Italy… feel like Rome. It won’t come as a surprise, I was depressed for a couple years after my husband died, and I feel like now, part of the lightness is…” she pauses to think.

“I gained a bunch of weight, and I’d like to lose weight. I did yoga, and there’s nothing wrong with yoga, but I want to do something more active… and have some fun! ‘Crazy thought.’ So maybe I want to get a pair of roller skates. I hear roller skates are coming back. So Rome appeals because it just sounds like the most vibrant, exciting, maybe even over-stimulating but still very passionate, alive city.”

She’s thinking out loud with me trying to realize the other things she has thought about but has not written it down.

“… things I want to do… I would like to get re-married. That would be an adventure… and apply all that I’ve learned about myself over the past few years without overwhelming someone… hahaha,” she laughs. “I think I’m a little bit of a bubble in some ways as you can when you live alone.”

“The third… kind of random, but whatever! There’s an 85-year-old English lady living inside of me. I really want to go to this Burley… it’s this type of china that has been around forever. I want to go to these factories and see people do these things. That stuff is going to go away eventually — these crafts-kinds of things that have been done for hundreds of years. Visit English gardens…”

“So there’s Rome… WOOOO!!… and there’s the two sides of me — the balance of me. So there’s the English with china and having tea and scones. That’s also appealing. And just really, I’m really into history. Just going to a place that’s been around for so long, for good or bad. Really exploring that.”

What would you like to ask tomorrow’s Stranger?

“What is your deepest fear?”

After the handshake.

This was actually a pretty long interview — much longer than the 5-7 minutes I told her it’d take. However, we just let our little meet flow, and she started and ended by taking the conversation where she wanted to. Much like Steve, the “Musician” from Stone Mountain, I realized early on that Jacqui had a lot to share, and she WANTED to share. I think that’s a key piece to a lot of this which is also why Jacqui was open to sharing the tough moments of her life and for her to be vulnerable and even shed a few tears. As she mentioned, she didn’t necessarily have subtle cues, but instead, she let herself be vulnerable and share her story with me (and with you). It’s an amazing thing.

Perhaps hitting home in me much harder than some other stories was her mention of how some people, good or bad, will come and go. She said this as a fact and rather casually, but to me, it hits home a little more seriously as I consider a key person in my life leaving soon. Add to that what Jacqui suggested to have an almost okay feeling about it, I definitely do not. I have tried (and still do) to not have expectations and just be “okay” with people leaving, but in my case, it’s tough, and “being okay” depends on how I deal with it being “okay”, if that makes sense. For me, I catch myself trying to be isolated more so as a defense mechanism. However, I also value this sad feeling because it highlights how much this person means to me. So as Jacqui talked about, it’s important to have balance. So far, I’m stuck going from one extreme to another… not quite the balance she suggests.

In any case, I’m thrilled that Jacqui opened up to me, and I’m happy we hugged as “strangers”. As this journey continues to unfold, it’s easy to see how we are all Strangers, and yet, simply connecting just for a moment feels like we aren’t Strangers at all.

So meet Jacqui. No longer a Stranger.

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