Edited by: Avni Gupta
“. . .sometimes one feels freer speaking to a stranger than to people one knows. Why is that?”
“Probably because a stranger sees us the way we are, not as he wishes to think we are.”
― Carlos Ruiz Zafón, The Shadow of the Wind
A smile in the elevator, a gaze exchanged in mutual frustration, a brief moment of connection in the labyrinth of life – these are the heartbeats of the human experience. In this intricate dance of existence, strangers often become our uncharted allies. In the tapestry of our lives, we weave threads of intimacy with those we hold close, yet in the most unexpected places, we find the most extraordinary connections with those we know nothing about.
I always come back to the memory of me in a crowded elevator, surrounded by an array of people whose lives are a complete mystery to me. Who are you? What are your thoughts, your aspirations? What drives you? As the doors close and the ascent begins, a peculiar sense of vulnerability permeates the confined space. In that fleeting moment, strangers become a microcosm of human existence, a reminder of our shared journey on this pale blue dot. It is here that the power of a smile emerges, transcending words and transforming the ambiance into something magical. It becomes a testament to the possibility of connection in the most mundane and unexpected settings. That smile, a mere flicker in time, speaks a silent language, affirming the presence of shared humanity and commonality amidst the dissonance of our daily lives.
As the elevator reaches its destination and the doors part, the moment of connection fades into memory. The smiling stranger, now lost in the sea of faces, leaves behind an indelible mark on my heart. It’s a reminder that amidst the hustle and bustle of life, amidst the chaos and cacophony, there exists an unspoken bond that connects us all. In these small, transient encounters, we see ourselves reflected in the eyes of others.
The crests and troughs of life are laden with countless opportunities for these fleeting connections. An encounter at a café, a shared laugh in a crowded market, or a wordless exchange of empathy with a fellow traveler during a delayed flight – these are the fragments of our lives where strangers become our unanticipated companions. Strangers offer an escape from the familiar and the mundane. It is in the anonymity of these encounters that we find solace, because as the quote I started off with says, a stranger sees us not as they wish us to be, but as we truly are. This peculiar liberation fosters an environment of authenticity. In the presence of a stranger, we are not compelled to uphold the roles we play in our established relationships. It’s in the comfort of anonymity that we reveal the deepest recesses of our hearts.
The bond we share with strangers is inherently fragile, and it’s this ephemeral nature that imbues it with unparalleled beauty. We are aware that these connections are temporary, that they may never extend beyond that moment. This knowledge drives us to savour the present, to make the most of the fleeting connection. In this fragility, we find a poignant reminder of the impermanence of life and the value of every interaction, no matter how brief.
Strangers become the keepers of our secrets, the vessels into which we pour our unfiltered thoughts and emotions. It’s almost as if we are granted a safe haven in their presence, a sanctuary where we can lay bare our innermost thoughts without fear of repercussions. In return, we become the guardians of their stories, the captors of their unspoken truths. We become allies in a silent pact to respect and cherish the vulnerability we share.
Whenever I find myself in a crowded elevator, or waiting in line at a café, I remind myself to take a moment to acknowledge the beauty of the strangers around me, to embrace the unspoken connections that exist in the most unexpected places. So, when the opportunity presents itself – smile at that person sitting next to you on a crowded bus, strike up a conversation with a stranger, and relish the uncharted bonds of the unknown. For in these moments, in the eyes of a stranger, you may discover a reflection of your true self.
Edited by: Avni Gupta