It’s the golden rule of youth—“Don’t talk to strangers.” My parents were especially worried about me growing up, because, quite honestly, I didn’t think the rule made a lot of sense. There had been plenty of times I witnessed nothing but kindness from people I barely knew. It’s sad, really, the way our society has become a culture fueled by anxiety and worry. And in a way, we had to become that way to protect ourselves and the ones we love. Interestingly enough, while sitting on a train New York City bound, I met an elderly woman that got me thinking a lot about the strangers we meet and the impact they can have on our life.
As I made my way down the impossibly narrow aisle on my northbound train, I searched for an empty seat—a seemingly inevitable defeat. I was about to settle for sitting in the café car (the wide selection of chocolate candy caught my eye) when I noticed a women sitting alone. Ironically, she was reading the same book I had been reading all week. I asked her if there was room for one more, and with a slight nod, she gestured I could take the place of her oversized purse.
As I wrestled my bags to fit under my seat, she looked at me kindly, noticing I had been reading Glass Castle. “I see you’re reading the same memoir as me,” She held up her copy. “Makes me feel like my family is a little less fucked up.”
I laughed, not expecting to hear those words come out of a woman who looked older than my grandmother. “That’s probably why I’m on my second time reading it.” I replied, while placing the book on my lap.
What followed was a two hour conversation, recounting our childhood memories, so vastly different, and at times, so eerily the same. I can’t tell you what made me trust this woman or what made her trust me. It might sound desperate, crazy or even unrealistic to believe that within two hours I had turned an 85-year-old stranger into a newfound friend. But the thing is, to me, opportunities like that are all around, you just have to be open. You just have to be present.
I often think of the times traveling, whether it was by cab, bus, train, or plane, that I have come across some of the most incredible people. I’ll never forget what the women on the train told me when I told her I wanted to become a writer; she said, “Remember that the stories we tell become the stories we live. Live a good story.”
I never spoke to her again. But I remember our conversation. And I remember plenty more conversations, just like the one I had with her, with people I barely even knew. I think there’s something to be said about the strangers we meet. I think they have the power to change the course of our own story. And, most of the time, it just starts with saying hello.