“I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but first impressions are often entirely wrong.”
She looked like a bag lady, sitting alone on the bench in Central Park. Oblivious to her surroundings, most conspicuously a Hitchcock-like mass of birds flapping and squawking all around her. If it were not for the desire to photograph the extraordinary scene, I too would have likely afforded her the same wide berth as other passersby. New York City is no place to engage with strangers, least of all the crazies.
“Do you mind if I take a photo,” I asked, only because we made eye contact. She nodded and — not sure whether for my benefit or not — tossed a big handful of birdseed on the ground at her feet. The assorted blackbirds, chickadees and sky rats swarmed and battled one another for the treats. I snapped a dozen or so shots. And then, with apprehension, I did something unusual for me; I initiated a conversation — about the beautiful day for a visit to the park.
To my pleasant surprise she was “normal.” We introduced ourselves, she invited me to sit on the bench and we continued to talk about a wide range of normal things. Like the city’s rising skyline and the exhibitions at the Met just up the street. As well as travel and culture, which lead to gentrification and then to the challenges of growing up, old and alone in the city.
The conversation went on for 20-30 minutes, undeterred by the fluttering cacophony coming from her flighty menagerie. Occasionally she lobbed fresh handfuls of seeds to the anxious flock, but otherwise the only awareness of the birds came from pedestrians who appeared curious and wary of the strange bird people.
TIME WILL TELL
After I said goodbye and walked away, I felt inspired and foolish. While the first impression my new friend gave was odd and wacky, my second-natured response was completely wrong. She was delightful and interesting. The reality is, everyone has a story — if you take the time. So often our pages reveal much more than our covers. This is particularly true of older adults whose longevity inherently feature troves of unique experiences.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” Will Rogers said. You do get a second chance, however, to illuminate your first impression of someone special.