psy·chot·ic leop·ard sīˈkädik/ˈlepərd/ noun · anything that is funky, interesting, beautiful, niche, useful, and grabs one's attention

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Taking Chances on Strangers: Finding Trust in the World

Posted by Lisa Johnson on


Having an online business forces me to deal with some crazies, but overwhelmingly, I have found that the virtual world is full of really nice people.

A couple of weeks ago, an Ebay user sent a question about a pair of vegan combat boots which I was selling.  She was concerned that after having placed a bid, the soles might be damaged.  They weren't, but it turned into a conversation about the best type of epoxy glue to use for repairing not only shoes, but making mosaic mirrors, which I had delved into a few years ago.  Turns out, through a couple more exchanges, that she lives off the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, and has access to a wealth of seashells and findings from the ocean, which she then proceeded to send photos of.  

Though I have always loved barter, it was she who brought up the idea of trading me a "surprise package" for the boots, instead of paying, which I immediately said yes to. Who doesn't love surprises, especially when they arrive in the mail? What was really cool about this exchange, which she noted, was that as strangers, we would have to trust each other. We both had promised to give something, but there would be no recourse if one of us did not hold up her end of the deal.

Within a couple of days, she sent me another photograph:  a cardboard box which she had decorated profusely with my name in large bubble letters and green duct tape.  It reminded me of the special care packages I'd received while away at summer sleepaway camp from my closest friends, often filled with packs of Hershey bars (my favorite) and Cricket magazines.

So I, like any single mom running her own business and with limited time, took the boots she wanted and shoved them in a flat rate USPS mailer with a Psychotic Leopard business card and temporary tattoo.

Two days later, after emergency root canal surgery and feeling pistol whipped, I arrived back at the house to find her package at the top of the porch steps, like a huge smile.  

Tempting as it was, I just had to wait for my daughter to get home, because I knew how much pleasure she herself would get out of unwrapping something that looked as good as this. Normally, when we open the mail, we shred like dogs, but this box was a work of art in itself that needed to be preserved. Getting a pair of scissors from the kitchen drawer, I carefully clipped off its top, keeping the address label intact, to later frame.

What we found as we pulled back the cardboard flaps took my breath away, it was so exquisite!   The scent of dried sage and incense of my high school days wafted up, and inside was a nest of carefully hand-wrapped aqua blue little packages, in whose center rested a photograph of a graffiti heart.  On the back were written the words, "Let's be the change we want to see."

My daughter and I spent the next 20 minutes reading the handwritten messages Keirsten had tied carefully with twine to each individual packet, describing the glorious little treasures inside.  There was the bone of a heron, a tiny sea fan attached to a white shell, a lunch bag full of olive shells and whelks, a small tupperware bowl containing three beautiful, perfectly intact white sand dollars.  There was a rainbow colored bumper sticker proclaiming "JUST BE NICE" with a peace sign, hand colored by an eight year-old neighbor of hers named Malia who was born in the house next door.  A stunning piece of Blackwater river worn driftwood, a cluster of purple barnacles.  Unearthing each piece was such a thrill!

It went on and on.The fact that she had spent so much time, care, and love into sending us, complete strangers, these magnificent gifts made me feel guilty.   It was overwhelming, enchanting, and one of the nicest things I had ever received in the mail, from anyone!  Even better than any camp care package!

Thea was totally charmed and said, "Mom, this person seems like she's one of your good friends!"  She couldn't believe that Keirsten and I had never met, or even spoken before.  Then she announced that she too would love to do a trade (which we vowed to put a lot more time and attention into!).

I emailed Keirsten to thank her, and noted that her gifts had been reminiscent of those I'd received over the years from my aunt, who died last month. Ruth had what she called a "magic closet" which she would occasionally raid, sending its contents over to us:  I never knew if I would get shampoo samples or a pair of my grandmother's earrings. It was as if Ruth's spirit, or whatever you would call it, had come back to me through a stranger at the other end of the continent.

“Keep your heart wide open and you’ll be received with open hearts," said Marnie Grundman, author of Missing:  A True Story of a Childhood Lost.  The past three years have been some of the hardest that my children and I have had to face, and I often worry that what they have been through might harden them as adults, make them more suspicious and less apt to trust.  Experiences with people like Keirsten, however, confirm my conviction that the world is good, and that if we move about with an open heart, we can't help but to encounter some of the best people in it.

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