The whole concept of strangers is a weird one, isn’t it?
The notion that billions of people dotted all across the world live a life as full and as deep as your own is mind-boggling.
Everyone is the protagonist in their own story. To others, we’re supporting characters (and sometimes antagonists!). But more often than not, we are but a mere fleeting face, totally forgettable in their narrative.
It sounds incredibly solipsistic, I know, but it’s something interesting to chew on the next time you’re people watching.
When I would stay late at the office in Manhattan, I’d look at the neighbouring skyscrapers and wonder who’s bathed in the hundreds of individual twinkling lights. What brought them to New York? Are they happy? Are they looking back at the little glow of my office and wondering the same?
We share this world with 7.53 billion strangers. And every little chance encounter with a stranger has the power to completely change that person’s day, if only briefly.
But sometimes the impact is profound – and you may end up being the subject of a blog post…
The man on the 46a
It was the first day of summer in 2015 and in the space of 24 hours; I had separated from my boyfriend of two years, moved house, and had exactly zero sleep.
I had to catch the bus to Dún Laoghaire to grab the last few bags from my student house before I could get really settled into my new place in Rathmines.
Feeling a little funny while standing on Leeson Street, I resolved that soon enough I’d be sitting down. I figured that since I did have a pretty stressful few days, it would be weird if I didn’t feel offbeat. The bus pulled up and I felt a sickening wooziness take over as I blindly swiped my Leap card. With no seats downstairs, I tentatively scaled the stairs.
The last thing I remember is seeing the bright red jacket of the guy I attempted to sit beside.
I opened my eyes to be greeted by the stale grey roof of the bus. I was instantly mortified. I had never seen Dublin Bus from this angle before, what was I doing?!
I became aware of Mr Red Jacket leaning over me, his face contorted with worry. Another man was asking people to open the windows. Both men helped me off the bus, and at this stage I actually felt mostly okay aside from the searing embarrassment of going arse-up on a packed bus.
One of the men insisted on waiting for the next bus with me despite my polite protest, but really I was relieved that someone was with me. We sat by Waterloo road on the warm pavement. He gave me a packet of Soothers.
We chatted. He asked me about college, how I was doing, if I had eaten, what I wanted to do career-wise, where I’m from. He made sure I called my old housemate and ensured she would pick me up at the bus stop.
I wish I could say I fully remember everything he told me about himself, but my head was still swimming.
I never got his name, but I do remember that he worked at Intel and lived somewhere near Blackrock. If the universe somehow brings this blog post under your nose, I’ll never forget how you went out of your way for me that day and I’ll always be grateful. I will pay it forward someday.
The couple on table 14
It was Christmas 2014. I had just turned 20 and had started a new job waitressing at a swanky boutique hotel in Dublin city centre. It was the day before Christmas Eve, and all I wanted to do was be in Donegal with my family. But such is the hospitality industry in December…
It was a quiet evening and I didn’t have many tables. On table 14 in my section sat a man and a woman, around the same age as my parents. I served them their drinks and upon hearing my accent, they asked where I was from. We started chatting and they asked me when I was going home for Christmas. I brightly replied that by this time tomorrow I’ll be back in God’s Country – and I could hardly wait!
They said they were about to pick up their daughter, who was only a couple of years older than me, from Dublin airport. She had been living in (I think it was either London or Copenhagen?) for a couple of years, and they were looking forward to having their family all together again under the same roof.
Most service staff will tell you that we have a sort of “auto-pilot” dialogue script in our head. But with this couple it was different. We had a bit of banter and I really enjoyed serving them.
Before they left, they both gave me a warm hug, and the woman whispered: “Here’s a hug from me until you get home to your own mammy”.
It was an incredibly sweet gesture, and although they likely don’t remember the blonde Donegal waitress that served them 4 years ago, I’ll never forget their kindness.
The woman in Brooklyn
Summer of 2018. I had just moved to NYC and was still getting climatized to navigating the concrete jungle. One of my best friends moved to Bed-Stuy, and after a day out in Manhattan, we both went back to her place. After an evening of tea and chats, I went on my merry way to catch the train home.
The only issue was – I couldn’t find the fecking thing!
I pulled out my phone to check Google Maps and after a few seconds of being unlocked, it died. Awesome!* At this stage it was quite late and the grid pattern of the streets made them all look the same. Also awesome! A geometric labyrinth designed to disorientate clueless culchies.
There weren’t many people around, and when I finally plucked up the courage to ask someone for directions, she walked straight by me at first. Typical New York, I thought.
But she turned around and asked me if I’m all good, and where I was looking for. She said I could walk with her to the subway station, that she was going that way anyway.
We had a nice chat. She told me about her Irish family connections and how she had always dreamed of visiting Ireland, Galway in particular. When I got to the station I thanked her, and she wished me luck.
It was a small gesture on her behalf, but that interaction stuck with me.
Putting all of this down in black and white has made me realise that to others, we may be “that stranger”. I could be for the lady who lost her purse at the Luas station, or the drunk girl that needed minding on Harcourt Street, or the woman who needed a hand getting her buggy up the subway stairs.
These are all small things.
But at the time, it could mean the world to that person.
Open the door for someone, flash a smile. Genuinely ask someone how they are, and heed their honest response.
The next time you see a frazzled waitress, a lost tourist, or some eejit collapsing on the bus – know that this is your opportunity to pay a random act of kindness forward.
Stay in touch:
*I know. Sorry, mum.