It’s easy to lose sight of the beauty in strangers.
We become so easily lost in a crowd, pressed up against bodies; bodies wearing suits and ties and moving in their own directions to meet their own deadlines. We see faces; faces buried in newspapers and magazines and pamphlets advertising things — things you’d never want or need or leave someone you loved in a will. We become enveloped in the swell of it all; the lines, the traffic lights, the stop signs, the go signs — the tumultuous rapids of a life we chose.
We don’t usually pay much attention to strangers. We see them as obstacles, shadows ahead of us — always walking just that much slower than we’d like, selfishly stepping into ticket queues the moment before we do. Don’t they know we’re running late? Don’t they know we have somewhere to be? Strangers inconvenience our schedules; they’re the blurred, unpaid extras to our blockbuster, personal narratives — and we don’t have the time, we don’t have the patience. We’re the lead actors, after all.
But then, occasionally, something happens. You’ll leave your wallet on a bus, your phone will die, and you’ll realize that — strangers aside – you’re completely alone. You have somewhere to be, but you have no way of getting there. You’ll feel that dreaded, familiar wave of anxiety and panic rising in your chest, the tears welling in your eyes. You see, we’re so accustomed to relying on these fickle modern-day tools that without them, we become lost. Not lost in the crowd, as usual – but lost in our own isolation.
Without your credit card – that 6×3 inch sheet of hard, magnetized plastic – you’re unable to access what little money you have. Without your phone – that cracked, rectangular jungle of encased wiring – you have no way of calling a friend; no way of reaching out to family. Your support cast is missing in action. It’s only you – alone, with nothing.
It’s in moments like these that you see them, notice them – the strangers. It’s only then, when there’s nowhere else to look.
That’s when you notice the woman sitting alone with her latte. You notice the deep lines in her forehead and the way she curls her hair in the morning. You notice that line of pale, untouched skin where a wedding ring was once placed so surely, with the intention of love; the forever kind. You notice the subdued sadness in her eyes, swimming behind the reflection of her glasses – the way she occasionally mutters to herself, words of madness that you’ll never hear.
You notice that homeless man, asleep with his dog on the pavement. You don’t just notice him – you see him, pulled into screaming focus. You realize that he’s around your height, around your age. It suddenly dawns on you that he was once a baby who gurgled his first words; a teenager, wracked with nerves before his first kiss. You realize that, circumstances aside, in this exact moment, the two of you aren’t so different – not in the way you’d once thought.
You notice the slight limp in an old man’s step, the anxious lighting of an office worker’s cigarette, the unruly smile on that student’s face – the rare kind that only arrives when commanded by youthful infatuation. You see the same faces buried in the same pages of the same newspapers – and you can’t help but feel overwhelmed by it, the loneliness of it all – the untapped, unrealized beauty.
I think the most rewarding part of writing for Thought Catalog has been the connections I’ve made with others — with readers, with strangers. The ones who have emailed – from Kenya, Texas, Singapore, Panama – telling me the way my words have resonated, the way they feel a connection through my telling of experiences they’ve shared.
It’s so beautiful, to me, because on days like these when I’m lost and without a lifeline, it helps shift my perspective. It changes the way I see those around me. It makes me notice the people in the crowd, really see them – realize their beauty, understand their importance; the way they’re all so full of love and so thirsty for love in return. It makes me realize that we’re all just a little tired, a little lost, a little stuck on our respective paths, waiting for something or someone to intercept us – waiting for a smile or an expression of understanding. It makes me realize that the crowd doesn’t have to be an ocean in which to drown – but a sea in which to swim.
It breaks down the walls — you know, the ones we all put up as we leave the house each morning.
We need to be kinder to one another — wholly, openly, unreservedly. We need to see the validity in each others flaws, appreciate all the beauty in the eyes of a yelling man; understand that there’s reason to his anger, poetry in his pain. We need to smile at passers-by as though they were old friends; give encouraging nods to cafe-goers as if to say, “Look at you, making it through another day – you deserve that coffee!” Simply put – I think we all need to love each other. After all, when you think about it, everyone’s traveling from the same Point A to the same Point B – and sometimes that part in-between gets a little tricky. Sometimes we need the helping hand of someone we haven’t met yet – the helping hand of a stranger.
And you never know; maybe one day – when you need it – someone will buy you a bus ticket when you’re most in need and without money or a phone or a way to get home.
As their way of saying thank you. Thank you for the love.