Has anyone ever stopped to think about the number of strangers they’ve encountered in their life? Furthermore, the impact strangers have made in your life? I recently went down this road and realized the number of strangers who I think about regularly. I’ve traveled a bit in the past five years, weaving in and out of places, making it very common to share experiences with people I’ll never see again, people whose names I don’t remember, faces I can’t fully recall, or where they call home. I certainly have no idea where they are now.
I would like to share in a bit of detail a few of my favorite encounters with absolute strangers that have left a lasting impression on me:
I traveled alone to Indonesia and the first thing that happened upon my arrival was an ATM eating my debit card. I assumed I was stranded forever and this airport would be where I starved and died. An Australian man saw me crying and panicking, he quickly pulled out some more cash, got me a taxi to my hostel and gave me enough money to get me some food for the night. When I arrived at my hostel (still in a lot of tears) the man working the counter instantly offered to put me up until I could get my situation figured out. People in my hostel that night offered me food, snacks, rides on their motor bikes and anything else I needed until I got myself sorted. None of these people asked for anything back; this collective group of strangers didn’t think twice before offering a hand and without them I probably would have just drowned in my own tears sitting in the airport.
At a hostel in Pai, Thailand my only pair of travel pants came apart at the seams on the inside. I asked the man running my hostel (more like performed charades due to my inability to speak much Thai) where I could find someone in town to sew my pants. He handed me some thread and a needle, performed charades and in his best English told me “it’s easy, you learn and you do yourself.” Low and behold – he was correct. I uploaded a video on their sketchy wifi and had my pants stitched in no time. This man telling me to do things for myself has been the driving force behind me teaching myself simple skills in the past few years. A year and a half ago I decided to teach myself to crochet with him in mind and this year I was able to crochet and donate 40 scarves to a shelter in Boston. I understand this isn’t a lot, however there are 40 people with warmer necks due to this simple encounter and this lovely gentleman has no idea that he was behind that.
Nearly 10 years ago I received a phone call that my dad had passed away. I had to get to the airport to hop on a flight to south Florida. I barely recall that entire experience. I don’t remember making it through security, boarding my flight or what airline I took. However, I do remember the incredibly kind flight attendant who knew my dad had just passed away. I’m honestly not even sure if I told her, or maybe someone else had heard me say it and they told her. None the less, this woman hugged me, made me drink water, held my hand, expressed her sympathies multiple times and helped me off the plane when we landed. Sincerely, if I tripped over this woman tomorrow, I would have no idea. I can’t remember what color her hair was, whether she was young or middle aged, married or has children of her own, but I do remember her genuine kindness and the heartbreak she wore for me that day. She made such a sincere difference in my travel experience on the hardest day of my life, she’s forever apart of this life changing day in my personal story, and I wonder if she has any idea.
To the people I just mentioned, the woman who held my hand as we climbed a steep volcano while I was on no sleep and sick with the flu, to the man who looked at me in the airport last year and bought me a coffee because he knew I needed some kindness that day, to the various strangers who have taken a second to extend a kind of word, a smile or simple gesture to make any given day easier – thank you. Our life is a revolving door of people we will never really know, but we are all connected. It may be a cliché, but a little bit can go a long way. You never know whose story you became a part of, the outlook on life you just changed for someone or how much a simple smile toward a stranger can impact their day. We may not always be able to change the world on a large scale, but as a friend of mine recently said, “People can change people.” I believe he is right, sometimes that is all it takes. We are often so focused on the negative things going on, that we don’t notice the positive. Take a moment when you can and be a participant or a witness to the small, beautiful acts of kindness between strangers, it may restore your faith in humanity just a bit. Be warm, be genuine, be appreciative, and be kind.