She spoke quietly now, and then stopped speaking altogether. There were tears in her eyes — the kind of tears that somehow, relentlessly, make you tear up, too. “Sorry for getting so emotional”, she said.
Her name is Lynn and she is my 101st stranger of the day. Her openness with me today was such a gift. She was walking in the park right past me when I engaged in conversation. I asked her how her day was and if I could ask her a question. When I explained my project she stepped back, took a good look at me and said, “I guess I could chat for a couple minutes.”
Half an hour later, we were still talking: about kindness and trust, family and relationships, life and struggle — its inevitable companion.
What had moved her to tears was a recollection from her past: a time of struggle when she was raising her child as a single parent roughly thirty years ago. “No one wanted to take us in”, she said. She struggled and struggled some more trying to find a suitable place to rent. She got so desperate that she put up signs saying “single mother and child looking to rent.” And then something miraculous happened. A man named Harry reached out to her and found her a place to live.
“He was an East Indian man”, she said, “–someone from a different culture. And yet he was so helpful even when people from my own culture refused to help me.” It was a life lesson for her on kindness and its unwavering power to make a difference. She became more culturally sensitive and experienced a shift in world view. And, thirty years later, it still moves her to tears. “Seek and you shall find”, she said wistfully, her vocal chords quivering a dance of gratitude.
Lynn studied business and real estate. She used to manage and sell properties across Vancouver and Los Angeles. She’s part of a walking group and loves going for strolls. She also loves reading. It’s something in which she’s sought pleasure and refuge since her childhood. One of her favourite books is the Pulitzer prize-winning biography on Charles de Gaulle and what she described as “the catapult that launched him from anonymity to fame.”
Her advice? “Laugh a lot.” She spoke again of Harry, describing to me his personality. “He was such an easygoing and kind human being”, she said. His character alone had put her at ease.
Lynn wasn’t a fan of being captured on film but was fond of the view. She said her father used to work on the ships and that she’d like it if I posted a photo of them instead:
And there we have it! 101 Days, 101 Strangers, 101 Stories. Never have I ever so meticulously measured time as it passes and well, I must say: time flies. Thank you so much for joining me along this 49,279 word journey!
I’ve learned a lot over these last 3.3 months: about trust, about life, about hardship, about triumph. I’ve learned that “don’t talk to strangers” is some of the worst advice my parents ever gave me.
I’ve learned about getting outside of my comfort zone and experimenting with the prospect of rejection every single day.
I’ve learned about process and commitment, accountability and dedication, priorities and what to make of them. I’ve realized that more often than not, we really do have a choice about what we do with our time.
I’ve reflected a lot on the significance of conversation and how our inclinations towards or against it in certain spaces is a result of how we’ve been socialized — by, perhaps, our educational and economic systems, to name a couple.
I’m very excited to share that I’ve been invited to speak about this story — all 101 of them and my own — at TEDxTerryTalks at the end of the month! Will you be in Vancouver? Come say hi!
Now, the last 5 paragraphs started with “I” but that’s not who this project has been about:
Thank you to all of the strangers I’ve met for sharing your stories with me. I’ve realized that every time I spoke to a stranger, a stranger spoke to a stranger, too.
Thank you to everyone who read along. Your encouragement is what helped me keep with this on the more challenging days.
Thank you to the friends who so patiently put up with me lingering at events and catching the bus late because I was busy talking to strangers.
Thank you to everyone who helped capture memories through photos.
Thank you to my dad who decided somewhere along the journey to take on the self-appointed role of my personal editor. I would get voicemail messages from him every now and again, and I eventually realized that either it meant somebody died or I made a grammatical error in a blog post. Thankfully it was never the former.
And thank you to my roommates for this heartwarming gesture. Every night when I’d come home, they would always ask firstly, how I was, and secondly, who had been my stranger of the day:
I know that I’ll keep talking to strangers and I hope that maybe I’ve inspired others to do the same every now and then. They are so, so ordinary, and yet so, so wise.