I grew up in Maine. My mother’s family and my husband’s family have lived here for generations. I thought Mainers were a friendly, welcoming lot. It wasn’t until my husband took a job in Wisconsin and I continued my education out there that I re-examined that impression.

Of course, I thought everyone back home was friendly. Everyone I had hung out with was family or friends since grade school. I can’t remember anyone who wasn’t family being invited to dinner at my childhood home. The exception to this was children’s birthday parties. Neighborhood children and some classmates from school were usually included.

Yankees are known for their reticence. Small rural Maine towns had a certain clannishness that I wasn’t aware of. Perhaps it was a wariness of “other” or “different.” Even today in our more mobile society, there is still the sense that if you are “from away,” you’re not a “real Mainer.”

In Wisconsin I could go through a whole day without seeing a familiar face. I felt very lonely as I walked around the Midwestern campus. I didn’t know anybody’s name and they didn’t know mine.

However, it wasn’t long before my husband would ask me who I was chatting with in the grocery store checkout line. I didn’t know, but people seemed to talk to me like old friends wherever I went. I hadn’t had a lot of practice making new friends, but I got to know Julie and she changed my life.

She always had interesting, fun things to do. It didn’t take me too long to discover her secret. Often when we were invited to her home, we met new people. Not just new to us, but new to Julie. She didn’t hesitate to include anyone she met at her next gathering or outing. She never sat home lamenting that no one had asked her to do something. She was not afraid to take the first step.

It was by leaving Maine that I learned to reach out to strangers who often became new friends. Back in Maine now, I no longer wait for someone to invite me into their life. I open my home to people that I want to know. If there’s an event that I’d like to attend, I ask someone to go with me. It’s still a little scary to go someplace new where I don’t know anyone, but I do that occasionally just to get out of my comfort zone.

If people can’t even walk across the street to talk to a neighbor or have coffee with a newcomer, how can we ever hope to have world peace? Besides, including others wards off that 21st-century disease of loneliness.

Regrets? That I didn’t include fifth-grade classmate Valentina at my 10th birthday party. I hadn’t learned this lesson yet.

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