I have a fondness for strangers, and people I meet in passing. You might even say I’m attracted to them.
Perhaps it’s the mystery of the unknown, the possibilities, or maybe because they remind me that we’re all strangers here, one way or another. Strangers in a strange land, regardless of geographical location, all trying to figure out life. That’s how it is you know, in our modern world, because we’ve figured out most everything, except for how to live.
If you do figure out a way of life that works for you, fear not, because someone will let you know that you chose wrong. More often than not, that someone will be a friend or family member.
I love strangers because they’re less complicated, even less guarded sometimes. It seems like it’d be otherwise, but I’ve found that when people don’t know you, your opinions, prejudices, and worldview, they more readily share their dreams with you. Funny isn’t it? That we often feel safer telling our dreams to a stranger than we do to someone we know.
But enough philosophizing.
One of my favorite things about living a minimalistic and nomadic lifestyle is that I have the opportunity to meet a lot of strangers. I’ve met them in countless coffee shops, truck stops, gas stations, and campgrounds. If you’re observant, you’ll spot the ones who are aching to talk. You can see it in their eyes, a hunger for connection and for someone, anyone, who will hear them; someone who will simply listen, even for just a few minutes. Some of my most memorable moments from the more than 11, 000 miles I’ve traveled so far, have been those times when I sat with a stranger and listened. Oh! How they talk once they realize you’ll pause your own life and hear all about theirs.
I remember the time I was driving through Tyler, Texas. I stopped at a coffee shop to do some writing and fill my caffeine tank in preparation for the 7 hour drive ahead. It was 6AM, and I was headed to Odessa, a city in West Texas.
A few minutes after my arrival, an elderly man and woman came in, got their coffee, and sat in the chairs next to my table.
The sun had begun to lighten the dark sky, and I needed to get on the road. But, I felt drawn to the couple sitting next to me. I wanted to talk with them, even if only for a moment. I removed my earbuds and began packing away my things.
The man noticed and said, “Are you heading out?”
I told him I was and where I was headed.
“Ah yes, ol’ Odessa.” he said with a smile. “I used to work in the oil fields there when I was a teenager. I made .95 cents an hour.”
I spent the next half hour listening to him and his wife tell me all about their life together. The man had helped build the interstates of Texas, following his time in the Army and his service in Korea. One of the last things he said to me, after I had remarked about how much he was paid way back then, was,
“People make more now, a lot more. But they pay a lot more too.”
He was right, and in more ways than one.
Then there was the time I was rolling through the southeast corner of Colorado. I was traveling on state and county roads, in pretty much the middle of nowhere. There were times I would drive for three hours and not see another vehicle or human being. I was driving down state road 287, and came upon a truck stop where I stopped to get gas since I wouldn’t see another gas station for several hours.
I was paying for my gas, standing in line behind a woman whose eyes were bloodshot and filled with tears. I could see that the cashier knew the woman and they talked for several minutes. Other customers grew impatient and moved to another cashier, but I felt compelled to stay where I was. The cashier glanced up at me and apologized for the wait. I told her that no apology was necessary and to take all the time she needed. The woman with the tear-filled eyes stole a glance at me, and our eyes locked. I smiled softly, and I could see both pain and gratitude in her eyes.
Neither of us spoke a word, and we didn’t have to. Each of us could see in the eyes of the other that we knew pain, and we knew hope. She thanked me, for what I didn’t know- I had done nothing. But, we did share a few precious seconds of mutual “knowing” and maybe that helped in some way.
The lady left the store, and the cashier thanked me for being patient and let me know that the woman’s mother had recently died.
My encounters with strangers over the last year have changed me, and for the better I think. I’ve learned to slow down, take a pause, and listen. So many times I had been in a hurry, but for no real reason. Caught up in the high-speed flow that is our society, in a rush to go nowhere and get there as fast as we can.
I hold these encounters in a special place in my heart, and there are many others I could write about. I have a feeling there will be many more.
Because I have a fondness for strangers, and for people I meet in passing. You might even say I’m attracted to them.