There’s a woman I see with some regularity in the area I work. I recognize her by the beautiful, colorful design on the back of her black coat. The coat is made by a Spanish company I like, and that’s one of the reasons the design popped out at me. And once I noticed the coat, I started noticing the woman who wears it. I’ve spotted her in line at one of the places I frequent for lunch, seen her on the sidewalk in front of me when out running an errand, or our and about on my afternoon trip to Starbucks. I believe we’ve exchanged a polite smile or two, and that’s about it. I don’t see her frequently enough for us to be anything more than passers-by on the street, and I’d be surprised if she recognized me at all.
It’s these sort of life intersections that fascinate me. My path crosses this woman’s path with enough regularity that I’ve noticed her, but I know nothing about her other than her fashion sense and mine overlap in one tiny area and we spend time in the same geographical location. And yet, our worlds intersect at these moments. I used to think about this a lot when a bus route was a regular part of my commute years ago. Every morning, I would see many of the same people on my bus route. I knew they lived in my neighborhood and we were all headed to the metro, but that was it. And while we spent 15 minutes or so together every morning, I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t know where they went when they got off the bus, I didn’t know what they did for a living, who they lived with or what their sense of humor was like. I’m not at all a morning person, so I didn’t usually strike up conversation, and it wasn’t happening much around me, either. I think that’s also fascinating in and of itself – while we didn’t know anything about each other, we all had come to this unspoken agreement that our time together on the bus in the morning was quiet, personal time. We would be polite – smile, make sure your coat wasn’t spilling over onto the seat next to you, but we would respect personal boundaries.
I’ve talked before on this blog about the stories we tell ourselves – it’s how we make sense of the world. Often, we’re telling ourselves stories about people we know – our close colleagues, good friends, pesky neighbors, meddling family. We tell ourselves these stories and assign motives, create heroes, victims and try to make sense of plot twists we didn’t see coming. But in the middle of all that, I’m so intrigued by those who play an extra part in my story – what’s happening in their stories? What brings us both to this same spot at the same time so our stories collide?
It’s through this lens of storytelling that I can’t help but imagine what’s happening in these people’s lives that brings our worlds together for these brief moments. I’ve got many questions for the woman in the coat. I wonder how she discovered this designer we both like – did a good friend introduce her to it? That’s how I found out about it. A few times I’ve seen her out with different people and they seem to be headed somewhere with purpose, laden down by laptops and papers. What are they working on? Are they coming from the World Bank, which is close to where I am? Do they like working together? One of the women who used to ride the bus with me was reading a book about how not to lose your sense of self once you got married. This was a rare gift that gave me lots to work with! I wondered when the wedding would take place, where it might be and who all might be coming. Did she have lots of family drama she was trying to balance? Maybe she was first of her siblings to get married and so she was by default creating traditions that some of them would follow. Was she nervous? Or was she so excited she could hardly stand it?
It’s these intersections that remind me that we’re all human – we all have struggles, joys, frustrations, stresses, celebrations and hopes. So while these intersections may be brief and fleeting, we can make the most of them by playing our role as an extra to the best of our ability. Offer a smile, open a door, step out of the way, offer up a seat. These are the small and subtle things that can have a much bigger impact on someone else’s story than we may ever know.