“Love between strangers takes only a few seconds and can last a whole life.”
– Simon Van Booy, Love Begins in Winter: Five Stories
We need to stop telling our kids not to talk to strangers. I don’t even know if parents still do (what with all this new-age parenting and feeding babies paleo diets) but on the likely chance, I’m advocating change.
The other day I was thinking about all the wonderful conversations I’ve had with strangers – younger, older, locally, while travelling, weeks ago, years ago – and I had some sort of epiphany: so many lovely life moments, and so many immeasurable learnings, come out of our accidental encounters with strangers. I realised the importance of all these people with whom I bonded for just a moment before going my separate way and momentarily forgetting their existence (only momentarily).
I remember a young girl with dark curly hair who waddled up to me in a shop while I was trying on sunglasses, and suggested I buy the pink ones. She tried on sunglasses alongside me – just the ones she could reach at the lowest level – and we spoke for 10-minutes or so about our favourite colours. I asked her favourite colour, assuming pink due to that being the colour of her shoes, dress and hat; “No silly, it’s yellow!” And now whenever I put on my tortoise-shell cat-eye sunglasses (her top pick), I remember our colourful conversation, and my bright world brightens. If not for my conversation with this darling girl I’d never have known that wearing round sunglasses, I look like an ant.
I remember another moment, on a train, after saying good-bye to someone special who I already missed. The lady across from me noticed my tears, leant towards me and said “Honey, I hope you’re okay. I’m going to be sitting here for the next hour so you just talk to me if you need to talk, or don’t if you don’t and I won’t mind.” Then she offered me a rock-hard boiled fish lolly, which I gladly took, and we talked, my tears forgotten. Fish lollies will forever be a powerful reminder to always look on the bright side, learned once upon a time from a stranger on a train.
I remember an unforgettable conversation while waiting to cross the road with a 90-year old Italian man, about love. The serious topic came up naturally, and he shared personal memories of his wife of 60 years, recently passed away. I think there were tears in his eyes as he encouraged me to treasure every moment with those I love. I passed the man on the street a few days later, and we exchanged a smile but I doubt he remembered me. And I do treasure every moment with those I love. Not necessarily because the old man told me too, but I still won’t forget him saying it.
I remember so many inspiring strangers I’ve met over time who have popped into my mind randomly and wonderfully over the years.
We have many things to learn from strangers, just as we, as strangers, have many things to teach. With each encounter with a stranger we gain knowledge, new perspective, and insight. Whether we agree, disagree, like or dislike, our minds open and we’re encouraged to think about something new. The little wires in our brains ignite and with each exchanged word, we grow. These conversations find a little place in our heads and they stay there to be used at some point in our future, whether consciously or subconsciously. At some point along the track, in weeks, years or decades, our mind will make use out of every conversation with a stranger, even if its only use is to produce a smile.
We should encourage kids – adults too – to talk to strangers, because how else will we learn about life if not from those who are in it?