Maybe I'll be the first to speak

DO you ever notice that when some people get on an elevator they suddenly clam up? They stare at their shoes, fidget with whatever they're holding, or keep their eyes glued to the numbers lighting up, one by one, as the elevator ever so-o-o slowly makes its ascent? Well, count me as one of those people. I'm also never one to start up a conversation with someone sitting next to me on the bus, or waiting for the signal at a street corner, or even someone next to me in line at the grocery store. I might venture as far as to offer a ``Yes, it is nice weather we're having,'' or, ``No, I hope it doesn't rain this weekend, either,'' in response to your question. But mostly I just nod and smile politely in agreement. It's not that I'm unfriendly - I'm just not sure how to start a conversation.

I'm one of those people who defy opinion polls - one of my greatest fears isn't speaking in front of an audience (I have found that quite easy, actually); what scares me is talking to someone face to face, without rehearsal. My trouble? I find it hard to be spontaneous.

On the other hand, my boys, aged 3 and 4, will talk to anyone, anywhere. Children have a way of getting people to open up, join the fun.

This is especially true at the grocery store. Around the holidays this past year, my four-year-old and I were standing in an endlessly long line at the store. The woman in back of us, after getting a joyous ``Hi'' from Daniel, asked him what he would like for Christmas. Daniel's instantaneous reply was, ``A football!'' Their lively conversation continued, as they exchanged their respective plans for the season.

Recently, while working in the garden, I overheard Daniel start up a conversation with someone walking up our hill. He introduced himself, his younger brother Peter, and then went on to say that soon he was going to ask Mommy for a little baby sister. Quite abashed, I buried myself in the weeds, hoping to hide my beet-red face.

What seems to me more remarkable is when children can spark spontaneity in adults. The other day, on our return trip from the neighborhood pizzeria, Peter and I heard brisk footsteps coming up behind us. As the footsteps neared, Peter whispered to me (in the loud sort of whisper that someone across the street could have heard), ``Mommy, someone is chasing us!''

I turned around to see a homeward-bound businessman, in pin stripes and carrying a briefcase. He put Peter at ease by saying, ``No, I'm not chasing you.'' Then, as his hurried steps took him past us, he turned around to face us, crouched down to Peter's height, and said, ``Ah HA, now you are chasing me!'' Peter giggled delightedly.

This experience has stayed with me as an example of how each of us can be spontaneous. But I've taken it a step further and am starting to realize that a willingness to share a part of yourself is what's required. Next time you see me on a crowded bus, challenge me. See if I do more than just smile back when you say, ``Nice day, isn't it?'' Or, I might even go so far as to - dare I say it? - be the first one to speak.

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