I had the most amazing yet simple experience today that hopefully will change my life, here's the story..
I got out of the army at 1:15 today because our lessons ended early, it is my second to last day on this base before my vacation for the Sukkot holiday and then my course starts. I am trying to figure out the best way to move all of my stuff to Jerusalem in a very short period of time from multiple places around the country before the holiday starts. I wanted to best take advantage of my day but when I realized there is nothing I could do moving wise this afternoon I decided to go outside to read. It was very warm today, about 95 or so, and I could have walked down to the beach but I opted to walk across the street to a park to sit and finish my book. I was okay with the decision because I feel I take advantage of the beach often enough since I go swimming one morning a week before the army and I run there about 4 times a week in the evening. If you know me you know I can't resist a bit of tanning so I wore my bathing suit top while sitting on my towel and reading.
A guy about my age comes up to me and says hello. I respond in a typical-me way when a random guy approaches me, especially when I am half in my bathing suit; I standoffishly reply back "hi"while barely looking at him, showing that I am not much interested in conversation as I am busy replying to a WhatsApp and reading (simultaneously, go me). He continues to open up the conversation with questioning me about whether I felt weird sitting in a park in my bathing suit tanning or if it were pretty common here (he's from Jerusalem, we're in Tel Aviv, people are generally more conservative there). He said he knows it is a bit bizarre to walk up to a girl while she is tanning and say hi but he was curious why I chose to do it in the park and not at the beach, and he wanted to ask me for his own general knowledge. You know, I don't really remember what else he said (plus it was in Hebrew and I was only half paying attention still) but it was something along the lines of he normally wouldn't go up and talk to someone in the situation but he wanted to, in a sense, push himself to step outside his boundaries and talk/question me. I responded by saying that I am also not really from here, I am American and staying at a friends across the street. I don't usually "tan" in the park but I didn't feel like walking down to the beach (lame excuse, i know) but wanted to enjoy the sun. He then begins to ask me what I'm doing here as an American and I finally start to warm up a bit. I tell him a bit of my story. He correctly guesses my age and that I have a degree already, we talk a bit about psychology (when people ask me what my degree is in I respond "psychology and sociology" it's the most accurate answer I have formulated since no one, even english speakers, know what the hell Human Development is). He tells me he's really interested in psychology and helping people but doesn't really know how to go forward with that interest in the future, yet. He tells me a bit about what he did in the army (it was a sort of teacher for soldiers, I was looking into it before I came up with the idea of joining foreign relations). He notices that I am reading The Happiness Project and we talk a bit about happiness, what is it, how it is a consistent, life-long effort, etc. He tells me he started practicing meditation and zen and we talk about these things for a bit longer. He decides it is time to go since his grandfather's fish that he bought was getting warm, we say our parting words, I thanked him for coming up to talk to me and he thanked me as well for being open to talking to him, we exchanged names, and Gavriel was on his way.
Although our conversation about meditation and zen was really eye-opening and peaked my interest in looking into the two things for myself, the reason this meeting hopefully changed my life has nothing to do with the context of our actual conversation and everything to do with the fact that we HAD a conversation. I am not someone who is opposed to meeting strangers, or new people, but I must admit I can see that I am more reserved here, as I am not so confident in my ability to have a full conversation with someone, depending on the topic, because of my Hebrew level. I am also typically hesitant to talk to guys who approach me when I am alone, particularly alone in a bathing suit at the park. Anyway, the point is he DID come up to me and we DID have a conversation and it DID entirely change my idea of "talking to strangers." We both admitted that we were so glad we talked to one another because it totally changed our preconceived notions of the other. He openly told me that he did not think that a girl who was tanning in the park had any depth to her and he was pleasantly surprised to see how much I had (thanks!) and I admitted that I am very hesitant to talk random guys but I am so glad I opened up and didn't brush him off. We didn't exchange numbers and I will probably never see him again (well, then again, Israel is a small country, you never know) but I will always remember this little encounter.
Let go of preconceived notions that constantly guide our behavior, you have no idea what great experiences you are missing out on. Another reminder of how important it is not to judge people.