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I found myself at the nail salon the other day, hurrying to get a long-overdue manicure and pedicure, squeezed tightly in between five hundred other tasks in preparation for a work trip. Amidst the hustle and stress, I still tried my best to relax, pulling out a friend-recommended novel, Big Stone Gap, while having the bottom of my feet sawed off. After the awkward, wet-toed transition to the manicure chair, I positioned the book on my knees and resumed reading, with my arms stretched out before me for pampering. Barely one sentence in, I heard the interrupting voice of a stranger,

“What polish color is that?”

Ugh. Are you serious? Do you really care what polish color I’m wearing?

OPI-My-Vampire-Is-BuffI reluctantly looked up into the kind eyes of an older lady and said, abruptly, “My Vampire is Buff.” (Gotta love OPI polish names.)

She went on about how pretty the shade of white is and, as much as I just wanted to get back to the dramatic happenings of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, my inner Emily Post kicked in. I asked Marie* what color polish she was wearing. Riveting conversation, I know.

Some helpful background information: I was born and raised in New Jersey, so small talk isn’t in my roots. It’s not that I don’t like talking to strangers. I’m more that happy to chat up Frank at the pizzeria about his family’s visit to Italy, or Louie at Home Depot about the upcoming blizzard predictions. But I don’t feel the need to talk to every stranger every time. And when I’m clearly giving the “Belle signal” for privacy (i.e., nose stuckย in a book), it means leave me alone.

The day after I graduated college, I packed up my car, drove to Nashville, and settled into the provincial life of “The South.” It only took one stop at the coffee shop and one trip down the grocery store checkout line to realize that my Northern Belle ways weren’t going to cut it with the Southern Belles of Tennessee. Every stranger wanted to talk for a minimum of ten minutes, and they didn’t care how much I amped up my fidgeting and keychain jingling to show my hurry. They were sweet, but I just wanted my coffee and Lucky Charms — not a new friend for life.

This trip down memory lane might give you a little more insight into how I felt at the nail salon last week. Marie was sweet, but chatting with her wasn’t exactly in my day’s plans. She told me she was getting a French manicure because she thought red would be too bold for her mother-in-law’s funeral.

And that’s when I finally closed the book on my knees, swallowed a bit of guilt, and fully engaged with this complete stranger. Within a few minutes, tears were streaming down her face. Her mother-in-law had lived a full life until age 98, but it made Marie think of how she, too, would soon begin depending more on those around her. The thought scared her.

We started talking about families and support systems. Marie is a widow who remarried three years ago. So I encouraged her in the fact that she found love not only once, but twice. She should consider herself lucky! I mean, I’m in my thirties and haven’t found even one love.

She looked at me in shock. “That’s hard to believe.”

The conversation continued and I believe I was able to encourage Marie, in some small way, to appreciate the wonderful life she has. I felt good. I had put aside my selfish desire to be alone and not talk to another human being, and for a brief moment was able to bring light into a dark place.

Now don’t get me wrong — I still love my personal space. But I hope I can remember the feeling I had in that small, second-story nail salon. I hope I can slow down and step out of my comfort zone to help the Maries around me — the people who just need someone to listen.

As I was about to leave the salon, Marie leaned her wrinkled face towards mine to tell me something.

Oh, I thought, she doesn’t have to say thank you.

I leaned closer as she whispered softly,ย “Have you ever considered freezing your eggs?”

Well, I don’t think there’s an OPI nail color to capture that emotion.

~Ruth

*Name changed to protect this very sweet (albeit forward) woman’s privacy.

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Barna FRAMESP.S. Aย HUGE THANK YOU to everyone who supported and re-tweeted by book idea for the Barna FRAMES series. Guess what? I MADE THE TOP TEN! Totally floored! I’m currently finishing up the essay, which will be posted on the Barna FRAMES Facebook page with the other finalists for voting next week. I’ll keep you posted and would love for you to read it. Thanks again!