I didn’t watch a lot of Berenstain Bears growing up (I was a loyal Little Bear viewer), but there was one particular episode that stuck with me. It’s not the episode that begins with the two (let’s be honest) Caucasian children (read: racialized anthropomorphic bears) struggling to use the strange and foreign contraptions that are chopsticks, although that one is also a standout.
The episode engrained in my memory is the one where Sister Bear (who is, surprise, surprise, the sister in their nuclear family of anthropomorphic bears) is warned of the danger of strangers and becomes plagued with a sudden fear of everyone outside. We see images of all the people in her neighborhood switch from vibrant, smiling faces to malicious and desaturated scowls, as Sister Bear sees everything in a new light.
- I should note that as I write this, I’m realizing this may have been from a Berenstain Bears book, and not the animated series, but you get the point: Caucasian anthropomorphic bear number four is scared of strangers.
By the end of the episode (I mean, book) Sister Bear learns that the adult did not mean she should be afraid of all strangers; she just needs to be careful around strangers she feels unsafe around. Tiny, highly impressionable (and also highly anxious) Mika did not take it this way. My childhood self sided with Sister Bear’s initial conclusion: TRUST NO ONE. Perhaps this was an unnecessarily long way to establish that I was a child riddled with trust issues, but this is all to say that now I surprise even myself when I tell you I actually really enjoy talking to strangers.
I like talking to people about their dogs, asking them about their outfits, offering to take pictures for families awkwardly trying to squish into a selfie. I like saying good morning to people on walks and asking the the corner store guy about his day. I love listening to people’s truths and holding space for their stories, and sometimes I wonder how many tales I missed out on, keeping my head down and arms crossed all these years. Still, I’m grateful for the fleeting interactions I’ve experienced and the endless opportunity for more.
I don’t think I ever consciously decided I’m going to speak to a stranger today for the assignment, but one of the funniest little interactions I had this week was with a man while I was waiting to cross the street. A motorcycle roared through the intersection, noisily revving its engine (Is that what it’s called? I know zero about motorcycle lingo; point is, it was terribly loud). I lightly shook my head and scoffed at how unnecessary it was and the man next to me said, to no one in particular, “the louder the homo sapien, the smaller the penis.” I laughed at his comment and agreed with him. As the light changed and we crossed the street, we talked briefly about the friendships he’s ended with toxic men and Trump supporters before we parted ways. And there it was: a quick, harmless bond formed with a stranger I’ll likely never see again. Pleasant, funny, random, and fleeting are my favourite kinds of stranger interactions (they’re much nicer than unpleasant, concerning, and forced ones).
Okay, yup. It was indeed one of their paperback books and not their animated series, BUT I swear the chopsticks thing did happen on the show! Anyway, here’s the book I was talking about: