In the comments to my Friday Roundup (in which I refer to the subject of failing to feel lovely, among other tidbits and links) my friend Karin commented that she finds it a good antidote, when feeling unlovely, to do something nice for someone else “… even if it’s just flashing a brilliant smile and a sincere thank you to the coffee guy who looks more miserable than you - their startled and pleased smile could be just the thing you need!” It stuck with me, and when casting about for a Question today (the 186th one so yes it gets hard some days!) I remembered a not-so-nice encounter on the subway last week, and here we are.
So what interesting or meaningful or simply memorable encounters have you had with strangers lately? Glances, conversation, helpfulness, kindness, nastiness … what’s your story? I’ve had a few that stick out, and I’ll get the nasty one out of the way first.
I was on the subway coming home from Fynn’s cello lesson last week with both boys in tow, and it was a crowded train but we all had seats. A man got on holding a photo of a young girl, and wove his way angrily down the car, yelling about needing money for flowers for his granddaughter’s funeral, police brutality, and something else I couldn’t hear. He was furiously angry, in the way that a bull paws it’s foot and looks for a chance to charge. I have no idea if his story was true, I hear a LOT of them on the train and some strike me as honest, and quite possibly he had every reason to be angry. Nevertheless I didn’t pull out my wallet this time. Neither did anyone else that I could see. Fynn got restless in his seat, and I leaned over to ask him to sit still so he wouldn’t bump into anyone. The lady to his left smiled at me and said something which I couldn’t hear thanks to all the noise, but seemed to be a “don’t worry, he’s not bothering me.” I smiled back and responded in kind.
The angry man zeroed in on the two of us immediately, asking what was so funny and proceeding to rant at both of us, making all kinds of assumptions and accusations based on the fact that she was black and I was white. While my cheeks started to turn a bit pink I utterly ignored him, not wanting to get into any kind of argument with someone who was looking for a fight like that, hurt or not. Neither of us moved or made eye contact with him, or each other, until he decided he wasn’t getting anywhere, and moved on. She then quirked one eyebrow at me and gave a slight shrug, and that was the end of it. Maybe I could have engaged him in some way, but it just didn’t seem like a good idea.
I’ve had a few positive ones lately though, as the majority of mine are. Many come from having a 4-year-old who likes to play eye games, and generally bounce through life. He got an “ooh, a fireman raincoat!” comment from someone we walked past today, and it cheered me up for a block or two :). He likes to draw pictures and give them to people he’s just met (or played eye-games with) and that often starts a brief conversation.
I spent awhile chatting with a fellow runner on Saturday too, soaking up the sun on Coney Island’s boardwalk. I was drying off after wading in the waves post-race, and asked him how his race went. He was old enough to be my dad, and we talked about running, kids, homeschooling, getting away for a day, and kept each other good company for about 15 minutes. It was the perfect way to end my morning, after a 5am alarm and 13.1 slow and humid miles.
I could go on … the city is a great place to have random encounters, but I’d rather hear your stories. What strangers have touched your life lately?