Just like Daedalus advising his son Icarus not to fly too close to the sun, your parents meant well when they told you not to talk to strangers. But I remember questioning this when I was quite young. Isn’t it colder the higher you go? Wouldn’t he have to leave the atmosphere in order to get close enough to the sun to melt the wax? Yes, I watched Star Trek. And even, as a child I was bothered by the science, or more precisely, the lack of science in the Icarus story. But undoubtedly, his dad and my mom meant well.
As Kyle Hill from Discover Magazine told us last time, flying as close to the sun as possible (presuming that means not flying so high we can’t breathe) is actually what we should do. Wax at low altitudes will melt under the sun’s heat much faster than it will in the frigid upper atmosphere. So while it’s good to be cautious, being irrationally so is dangerous in the real world–even if the danger is in never trying, out of fear, and therefore never learning how high you can fly.
Similarly, while caution has its place, and your parents once had the right to tell you what to do, you will miss out on so much by being timid. Not talking to strangers is among the rules, along with not flying too high, that you should learn how to break. You’re a grown up now, better able to assess risk and reward. Work it out for yourself and trust yourself. Take the leap. I have met some of the most beautiful souls on the planet by waving aside the cautions against talking to strangers. As a matter of fact, my best friends were all once far away strangers, and had I not dared to trust my own instinct in such matters, well this would be a lonely life.
So, yes, look both ways before you cross the street, but go swimming right after you eat. Be curious. And whenever you get the chance, talk to strangers. You’re life will be so much more beautiful by doing so. And if you should land in the sea, you can learn how to swim.
In the Bible it happened—Fishermen, Levites
They just went away and kept on going.
—William Stafford, from “Saint Mathew and All”
He asks me with a grin,
What advantage do you
young guys have over me?
He stands there with his neat blue
cap and casual shoulders.
I cannot think of one.
Certainly not smarts, I say.
Wisdom would be the word, but seems
too cliché, too patronizing.
Not charm, for sure. I follow him
toward the door, while a clerk
shouts to me, holding up my bag.
He smiles and waits
as I retrieve my groceries.
When I was a boy, he says,
my mother’d make a list,
and I sat reading comic books
while the grocer filled the sack.
We pass a few moments in the parking lot,
lingering for what reason, wondering aloud
where we had parked. I could leave
more than what I’d bought.
Someone else would eventually find
the car. My inadvertent tempter smiles
again. Take care now, friend.
And I think, one could do worse
than follow to strangers.
© 2015 by David J. Bauman
First printed in Contemporary American Voices, June 2014