Everyday we are strangers- merely background figures in the lives of thousands. We forget the power that we have as a stranger in making a difference to someone’s life. We all started off strangers- imagine the strength of a world where being a stranger is no barrier to compassion and conversation. Where we recognise our global family, our brothers and sisters in the world.
I am a practical person. This isn’t a deeply spiritual message. But it’s taken me quite some time to realise that I don’t need to be someone ‘in power’ to have power. I don’t need to be the face of a change, in order to make a change. And that as one person, I can actually make a difference.
This realisation came from people watching, and it started with the path in the picture on that walk home watching the sunset. I challenged myself to do 48 hours without complaining- yet immediately thought it was too hard and lost the challenge. Instead, I decided to think positively for a whole day. Contrary to what I would have predicted it was not my friends and family who helped me in this challenge, but strangers. Because this is what I saw:
– Someone who caught the hand of a child about to run onto a road.
– Strangers helping construction workers by holding open doors.
– My colleague listening to an older customer talking about their day.
– The random girl at university who gave me a truly genuine smile.
– The mother using please and thank you when speaking to her young children.
– An acquaintance who asks how I was, and prompted a full answer.
I saw patient, good natured, funny, kind-hearted and loving people. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. But they are the strangers who changed my perspective, doing nothing unusual for them.
There is a stranger out there who holds my heart, but they don’t know it yet.
There’s a guy at the supermarket, he pushes trolleys. He always says hello and has the biggest smile for me when our eyes meet. I like seeing him, occasionally it even makes my day. I don’t think he has any idea how much that smile matters.
There’s a bus driver, he knows me by my purple backpack. He waits when I run, and pulls over even when I’m not paying attention to what’s going on.
There’s a neighbour in the street. We don’t talk much, but he heard our dog barking and came to check that we were okay. I still remember that, though I don’t think he would.
There’s my lecturer at university, who gave me another chance to pass the topic. “Now I trust that you know what you’re talking about- you can be so much more than the person who handed up the last paper”.
There’s a child I met volunteering. I didn’t know him, we were thrown together by chance, and then we spent a week together. We fought, argued and I never quite found the right words to make the peace. He hit, and punched and yelled and screamed. I was supposed to be partnered with another child. That week remains one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I put him to bed one night, and without a word, he wrapped his arms around me and didn’t let go. He kissed me on the cheek- ‘thank you’ he whispered. It was a seven year old who taught me about love.
There’s an intensive care nurse at the hospital. She doesn’t know me, we’ve never met. Her son fell in love with me and I broke his heart. I found out she saved my dad’s heart 3 years earlier.
There is a stranger everyday that I owe so much to. I almost love them in a way, they form a fascinating part of my story. Yet they don’t know their own worth.
But…I am a stranger too.
My regular morning customer. An older gentleman- and truly a gentleman. I haven’t had a conversation with him, yet every morning shift when I first started work he was there. He was a comfort, someone I learnt to recognise as a friendly face among the many customers who were not exactly morning people. It meant a significant deal to me that someone was nice, even when I made mistakes. He’s one of the reasons why I didn’t quit. Yesterday I had my first breakfast shift in a year. I saw the gentleman again. “Nice to see you back lass”… I smiled… I was an important stranger to him too.
Two young girls pulled aside for dangerous behaviour. Arguing in the rain, chasing through fields in the dark. “I hate you!” ,they screamed while the door was pushed against me. Forcing me way into a room. Having to tell each of the girls, she would be sent home. And that one girl…watching her devastation, hearing her cry. Listening to her frantic apologies, begging and promises. The moment when the girl realised we wanted her to stay. The look in a child’s eyes of being told they matter- that they are loved. I can’t imagine the look on my face in the realisation the child may never have heard those words before. The handwritten note of thanks, “Thank you for caring about me: thank you for teaching me right from wrong”.
The guy from work. We never used talk on shift, he wouldn’t meet my eyes. Then…”Thank you for listening”. The promise not to do drugs again, to find another way to escape. We talk everyday now. We taught each other slowly, how to care about each other despite being strangers. And now we are strangers no more.
Reaching out, making conversation- only now have I started to see that my actions have a ripple effect. I have found a calling of sorts, to help others realise this ripple effect too.
Strangers everywhere- you are always more important than you believe.