Beth Orton was right.
There is a comfort in strangers.
In transit, I try to rest but the confines of
Space prevents me. Later though-
a young boy tired by travels, his eyes heavy
Like all surrounding us, falls asleep.
His small head rests upon my
Shoulder, his hand gently on my lap.
A weary mind thinking I’m his mother.
I feel comfort, and do not move him-
Maternal instincts wants him to rest.
Like at home, restlessness slowly fades away.
It is here, we sleep as though family, to awake
Again as strangers. But now, with a newfound
Familiarity he turns to me and says,
‘It’s still a long way till home isn’t it.’
I’ve always been intrigued by the way strangers behave with other strangers in confined spaces. Lifts for instance- a metal box no larger than a big cupboard holding from 1 to about 10 people at any given time. You walk in, face the front, sometimes standing so close to someone you’re touching, and say nothing as it glides between levels playing that really shitty, repetitive music. Often you don’t even acknowledge that person. Then on arrival, you exit and go about your day, never to know the story of that person. I mean they could be brilliant.
Or the taxi. A man or woman drives you around for what can be over 30 minutes and some people sit there in silence. Yes, sometimes I get in and have absolutely no desire to make small talk. But then there have been days when I’ve heard the greatest of stories. Life stories, of refuge, of struggle, of immigration, of happiness. Many are sad stories of intelligent men who were once successful in their motherland- searched for safety or for a better life in Australia and couldn’t get work in their field. I’m sure we all have horror stories of taxi drivers who are rude or dangerous, don’t know where they are going etc, but then there are also the ones with the stories (can you tell I like a good tale)- if you choose to listen. Maybe I am just the type of girl who people open up to, but I believe I also ask the right questions.
So then you have the plane or bus or train or tram. Again, you board, you sit or stand in silence next to someone for sometimes hours on end. OR- sometimes you get those rare conversations that makes you see the goodness in people. The ability for strangers to open up to other strangers when they think maybe they will never meet that person again.
I sat on a plane next to a retired naval officer from Dallas to LA last week. I sat down and pulled out Breakfast at Tiffany’s to read. But before I could open it up, he introduced himself and before I knew it we were chatting like old friends. In a matter of hours, because he felt like opening up (he later said sorry you prob didn’t know you were going to sit next to chatty Kathy) or because I felt like listening-he told me stories of naval commitment and hardship, of seeing every single state of America and many countries around the world, living in New Orleans and how his wife had made the best bread pudding and then correcting himself to say late wife as she had died the year before. He was a really good guy.
I know I harp on about taking the time to talk to strangers, but conversations like these above, make me feel comforted by the fact that though there is violence and anger and hatred in the world- there are also moments where strangers can be momentary friends. From pulling down my social wall, I have at times made fleeting friends or lifelong ones. You never know- the stranger sitting next to you could be your future best friend, lover, brother in law or maybe you exist in time together just for that shared experience, then you move on to your next. I guess you will just never know unless you decide on that day you might turn to a stranger and say ‘hi, are you having a good day.’