Talking to Strangers: The Power of Vulnerability

Talking to Strangers: The Power of Vulnerability

I’ve been wondering about why people move in and out of your life. While I was on my road trip last week, I had several experiences meeting people who have stayed with me. The exchanges that we shared carved out a space in my heart where these nameless strangers now live.

It is startling how emotionally vulnerable strangers are.

On Tuesday morning as I readied to head out for the day, I went through the familiar routine of packing up my motorcycle in a hotel parking lot. While I toiled away, a woman who worked there came outside for a cigarette. From behind me as she exited the doors, I heard the words, “girl, you rode that motorcycle all the way from New York.” It wasn’t a question, it was a statement loaded with more unsaid than said.

She and I lightheartedly talked about the nature of travel and meeting people. She spoke about how when she was younger, she would get in her car and just drive. Not to anywhere in particular, she’d just go. These days though, she just doesn’t do it anymore. I could hear in her voice that this was a part of herself that she missed. But as she peripherally talked about her family it sounded like there wasn’t much room for dropping everything and running away, even if just for half a day. At least not now.

As we continued to chat, the conversation naturally drifted towards how once you get out in the world, the people you meet aren’t the terrible people you hear about on the news. They’re friendly, and interesting, and curious. When you run in to trouble their kindness can turn your day around.

As the thread weaved through the kindness of strangers, she began to spin a tale of losing her home to a tornado just a few years before. When she and her husband stepped out the front door on their way to church, she said that sky just looked “funny” and that she turned to him and said they weren’t going anywhere. Not long after as she sheltered in her bathtub, a tornado rolled through town and destroyed their home. They lost everything… but each other.

Her eyes welled up and she tried to compose herself. But the hurt and fear was still raw on her face. Her words became staggered as she tried to hold back the tears. The rims of her eyes barely held back the flood. She cleared her throat and said, “you know, when tragedy tears your life apart, it’s a surprise who helps you. We lost everything and it was complete strangers who came to help. It wasn’t the people I knew my whole life.”

When someone you don’t know bares their soul and trusts you enough to share their exposed nerves with you – it is moving. I feel blessed by that. As she continued to speak, I just kept my mouth shut and tried to hug her with my eyes.

She gave me the gift of herself.

Before I set off, she wiped a tear from her cheek and said, “Just seeing you out here, riding that motorcycle on your own, seeing the world? I’m proud of you. Really. You keep safe out there.” And with that, she walked out of my life.

Since that morning I have thought about her dozens of times. What did I learn from her by watching her trying to smile through the pain? Why did she move through my life? She gave me something but I don’t know what it is yet.

When I was looking through the notes on my phone last night, I found the following from 3/12/12. It seemed fitting for this exchange:

“Everything always matters insofar as every experience, every moment, every person who passes through your life helps to shape you.

People come and go but the lessons you learn from them can stay with you forever. So, will it matter in 5 years? Maybe. But maybe not for the reasons as you see them now.

You are responsible for creating the life you want for yourself. Sift through the hurt, the dregs, the pain and turn it into lessons for the better. Become who you want to be.

Chin up, kiddo. Be your best self.”

16 Replies to “Talking to Strangers: The Power of Vulnerability”

  1. Having worked behind a counter, it interested me how often complete strangers were willing to open up about their private lives.

    My thought is sometimes we need to talk openly about our burdens, without wanting advice about it. Friends and family will try to help, strangers will just listen. Sort of a spiritual “here, hold this for a second while I stretch” release of whatever issue we’re carrying. Maybe this woman needs to be strong, needs to be brave, needs to move forward in her daily life and doesn’t get the chance to be hurt, or scared, or vulnerable. Talking to a stranger lets her be open for a second.

    There may be a lesson in the meeting for you, or this is a time you are the person moving in and out of a life and the lesson was for her. Who knows? I bet she felt better after talking it out, which in the end is what’s important.

    Sorry for the sleepy ramble. 🙂

    1. Maybe this woman needs to be strong, needs to be brave, needs to move forward in her daily life and doesn’t get the chance to be hurt, or scared, or vulnerable. Talking to a stranger lets her be open for a second.

      This is a really interesting point that I never considered, T. I really appreciate your point of view.

  2. What a beautiful encounter, Rachael: “Just seeing you out here, riding that motorcycle on your own, seeing the world? I’m proud of you…” Obviously, it left an impression on her as well, was important to her.

    I’m totally with NevadaWolf and Richard on this: Passing strangers can be like secular father confessors (but without judgement and penance). Such anonymity bears certain guarantees. And, NevadaWolf, I love your “here, hold this for a second while I stretch” notion. That really hits the mark.

    It is said that we are sums of our experiences. Well, encounters are experiences, so I wonder what percentage of each of us is made up by others, the impressions that others leave on us.

    I imagine one living in isolation, never meeting another person. It might be an interesting experiment–but a worthwhile experience? Untouched by others? Unaffected? I don’t know. I’m glad to have my encounters in my makeup–my encounters for good OR for bad. The right perspective can declare that they’re always for good.

    1. It is said that we are sums of our experiences. Well, encounters are experiences, so I wonder what percentage of each of us is made up by others, the impressions that others leave on us.

      That’s a good question. If we’re open to it… other people really can teach us a lot about ourselves.

      I’ve been withdrawn and shy for a long time, holding people at a distance. It feels like I’m finally in a place where I can welcome strangers in. This past year especially has given me a lot of lessons about being a human thanks to the help of “strangers” and the people in my computer <3

  3. Part of the gift of humanity is to be able to stop and chat.

    In your case you probably offered as much to to that lady as she did to you in that brief moment in time

    You enriched each other’s lives and you would both be better for it

    Love this post

    Cheers

    1. Thanks, EG.

      I would love to think that she got something from me as well. But as I’m moving around in my own life, I never really feel like I have anything to offer. Though I suppose even just listening is something.

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