We Met in the Park: Making New Friends in Unexpected Places

Buenos Aires, Argentina

This morning, I made a new friend. We met in the park. His name is Luis and he’s at least 50 years old. He came over to comment on my tree pose. He stayed to teach me the art of living.

Earlier this week, I met Marcela, a pre-school teacher in her late thirties. She came over to complement me on my stretching. She stayed to tell me about myself.

When I moved to Argentina, I had one single mission: to learn to be happy. I take classes. I go to therapy. I do yoga. I meditate. I breathe. It turns out that I could have just gone to the park and asked for Luis or Marcela.

Luis is a spiritual guru disguised as a Soccer Technical Director. He suffered his fair share of tragedy, including the loss of a sibling at the age of 16 and his father at the age of 20. Yet he has a permanent smile on his face, a sparkle in his eye, and an incredible tan. He spends his days traveling, playing sports, and taking care of himself, and earns a living teaching others to do the same. I am convinced that he has found the secret to happiness.

Today, he taught me:

· Don’t attach yourself to things. Always be ready to fly. “If my friend’s invite me to go to Brazil, I’m not going to stay home walking the dog.”

· Be grateful for what you have.

· What happened in the past is done. Get over it.

· Have dignity. Don’t pretend to be something that you’re not just to please other people.

· Form your own opinions about people. If you decide that someone is not right for you, walk away. Alternatively, don’t let others talk badly about your friends.

· Life is like a never-ending staircase. Your goal is to reach the top but if you take three stairs at a time, you’ll trip. Focus on the present step and enjoy the journey.

· Take care of your body. Exercise, eat right, drink water, and sleep well. Avoid drugs and alcohol, because they disconnect you from the moment. “If you have to get drunk to dance, there’s something wrong with you.”

· It’s all about attitude.

Marcela, an avid amateur astrologer, was thrilled to discover that we share the same sign. As she explained to me the characteristics typical of cancer, I saw myself reflected in her words.

They spoke to me of different things, but the lesson I learned from both of them is that I am not a very nice person. When each one approached, I was annoyed to have my workout interrupted by “crazies”. Certainly nothing good can come of this, I thought, and I did nothing to hide my irritation. Luckily, they both gave me a second chance.

The other day in the park, a man tried to get my attention. Assuming that he wanted to say something inappropriate involving my running shorts, I avoided eye contact. But he persisted. Finally, I removed my headphones and with as much mala onda as I could muster, spat a “Qué?” in his direction.

“Are you listening to the Davis Cup?” he asked, politely.

“Oh. Um. No, I’m not.” I replied. “Sorry,” I added, and not just because I couldn’t give him the score.

My own mother once told me, “It’s a good thing you’re decently attractive. Otherwise, no one would talk to you.” Why am I such a bitch? Truthfully, it’s because I’m afraid.

When you’re a young woman in a distant land, you have to watch out for yourself. Clearly, it’s better to offend a complete stranger than to compromise your own health and safety. But my paranoia extends well beyond physical assault, sexual violence, and theft. I also try to protect myself from failure, disappointment, embarrassment, boredom, uncomfortable small talk, and bad first dates. The problem, I now realize, is that the good gets filtered out with the bad and I miss amazing opportunities to meet new people, go new places, and try new things. Plus, it’s not very much fun being bitter and scared.

It’s not easy to make friends, especially when you assume that you will dislike everyone and/or that everyone has bad intentions. The best strategy is to give everyone a chance, because you can find friends in unexpected shapes, sizes, ages, and places. You should do things, like take classes, go to parties, or exercise in the park, where you can encounter others who share your interests and values. You should talk to everyone. And you should say, “yes” as often as possible. Even if it ends in a disaster, at least it will make a good story.

1 Response to “We Met in the Park: Making New Friends in Unexpected Places”

  1. 1 Charles December 2, 2008 at 12:26 pm

    Always the professor…….see

    Ignatieff, The Needs of Strangers and Sennett, The Uses of Disorder.

    “The problem, I now realize, is that the good gets filtered out with the bad and I miss amazing opportunities to meet new people, go new places, and try new things.” Indeed.

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