n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
I've been thinking a lot about strangers. You know...that person in line behind you at the store or maybe the one who sat next to you on the train while you frantically played Candy Crush on your phone. We're busy people. We lead breakneck lives, zipping from one place to the other. We keep our distractions to a minimum. A simple nod or grin. "How're you? ...I'm doing well! Have a nice day!"
I've been thinking a lot about these brief encounters. These fleeting moments when our life brushes the life of another equally complex human being. Isn't it extraordinary when you stop to think about it? I'm the stranger in the crowd. I'm the awkward smile on the elevator.
I've been thinking about our preconceived notions of the people who may look different from us. Personal safety is a legitimate fear when interacting with strangers, but it can also be a crutch that can be used to avoid interaction.
You see, I've got a confession to make:
I've been talking to strangers.
C.S. Lewis once wrote, “There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal." I too believe that the people we interact with are far more than simply flesh and bones. They too have been fearfully and wonderfully made. These humans and the stories they hold are far more complex than I could ever comprehend.
There was the day I met an aspiring actor in Starbucks after I'd asked him about the script he was reading. Our conversation sparked a subsequent conversation between him and a woman a couple tables over who shared that she too was an actress. They were able to connect and swap advice. Later in the evening, the two of them were the ones to fling their scripts to rush to my aid when I'd clumsily spilled a latte all over my MacBook. (Yes, miraculously the same computer I'm typing on right now without any needed repairs!)
There was the time I'd noticed a man playing PokémonGo near me while I was out writing. We ended up chatting about the game and soon the two of us turned into a group of four, five, six...We shared stories as we roamed downtown catching virtual monsters, and honestly, it made the world feel a little bit smaller. We'd all have otherwise spent the afternoon alone.
I've been thinking about how we toss around questions like "how're you doing?" without actually expecting the other person to ever truly tell us anything of substance. What if it was different? What if we did genuinely care?Lemony Snicket has a line from his book 'When Did You See Her Last'. His character has entered a diner and begins to ask the waiter questions about a missing girl he is looking for. The waiter tells him he doesn't divulge information about his customers with strangers. Snicket notices the waiter was reading a book by an author he too enjoys reading,
"I'm not a stranger," I said, and pointed to his book. "I'm someone who reads the same authors you do.”
― Lemony Snicket, When Did You See Her Last?
We often fail to see these commonalities. We lose the incredible opportunity in our hands to positively impact a small moment in someone's day, constantly missing out on the anomalous situations born only in these moments.
Yeah, I've been learning from strangers. I've felt their kindness and compassion. Love is winning if you take the chance to see it. We've seen the impact of projects like Humans of New York. We are enamored with the stories of our fellow humans.
I've been thinking about the depth of humanity, the power of an authentic well-wish, and the stories we all carry with us. I'm sure you too can think of days when a single compliment or kind gesture has meant the world to you. Maybe we're strangers, you and I. Thank you for sharing this moment with me.