Mariah Proctor is a junior at BYU.
As I walk across campus (my most contemplative time), looking at people that pass and wondering what their stories are, I project my mood on the people around me. On a good day, I notice the people sharing a private joke or gathered around singing a spirited “Happy Birthday” into a phone. I notice girls trying to get a guy’s attention and guys trying to get a girl’s attention (the funniest is when it doesn’t work, though I suppose that’s also the saddest).
On a less good day, I don’t feel like a jolly observer of “the times of our lives,” but I feel instead like everyone else is observing me and not at all pleased with what they see. I’m an actor, so I’ve agreed to tolerate and even embrace a certain level of spectacle, but some days you wish someone would look pleased to see you.
I’m in a poetry—-I’m sorry, I meant PUPPETRY class this semester, and so I end up traipsing across campus carrying an assortment of oddities, and it’s a real litmus test of who’s open minded or even interesting to see how people react to what they see. The other day I rigged up a five foot body for a giant chicken puppet that I then had to carry home before there was any detail on it to indicate what it was. I had awakened late that morning and so I was in a pretty crazy outfit already and with a drying cockscomb between my fingers and the PVC piping of the body over my shoulder; the word “vision” comes to mind.
I found it sort of comical, and so I thought maybe I’d at least give people something funny to think of for a few minutes of an otherwise monotonous day. I rounded a corner just as something funny happened that everyone around (including myself) laughed at, and it was a moment of ‘look at us, we’re all humans and all living such a charmed life.’ Suddenly as I walked past, one of the boys nearby said with a crass, disinterested voice “why is that girl carrying a cross?” I realized he meant my chicken body, but as he said it I didn’t feel like one of the group anymore. I was suddenly the girl carrying a cross, specifically the cross of individuality.
After further thought I realized that I could’ve turned and talked to that boy and made him a fan, but instead of breaking down barriers when they appeared, I built them higher with thoughts of “you’ll never understand.” As a response, I made it this week’s goal to meet a new person every day. The rules are 1) it can’t be a friend of a friend, 2) it can’t be someone in a class or FHE or a ward activity (too easy), and 3) it can’t be a cashier or a salesman who has to interact with me for professional reasons. These rules in place, I am forced to be the one who approaches and give a chance to people I would otherwise dismiss.
The week isn’t over yet, but this challenge (that only I am enforcing on myself) has made me walk through campus with a new pair of lenses. My second day going, I was walking home at eleven o’clock at night (running out of time to meet a stranger without risking my safety…), walking just behind a girl with a pile of books coming from the library. She seemed to be avoiding me, but I needed to snatch this opportunity to meet a stranger, and so I jumped into a conversation completely unsure of how I could possibly see it through.
It was pleasantly surprising how little effort it took to engage with a stranger that would otherwise have always stayed a stranger. As we parted ways a little further down the road, I heard “thanks for walking with me!” before her voice was swallowed up in the night. There’s not a single stranger that I’ve tried to make a friend of this week who has been resistant to my presence or conversation. I sometimes think that BYU is full of unapproachable people, but I’m realizing now that I decided they were unapproachable; they didn’t.
People are eager to connect with other people, more than I ever imagined. In the Book of Mormon, it always talks about false prophets capturing the people with “flattering words.” I’m not an advocate of lying to people (or being a false prophet), but the reason it was so devastatingly effective in that context is because people in general (even those who would never admit it) are in desperate need of love and appreciation. They’re in need of “flattering words” and not because they want someone to exaggerate what they’ve got—or destroy their salvation—but because I think everyone on this earth has some fabulous attribute or talent that no one ever gives them credit for. Every one of us is teeming with divine DNA, and that means we’ve got incredible abilities and gifts at our disposal, and as the children of Love incarnate, we should be experts on seeing each other and loving what we see.