Talking to Strangers: The Power of Vulnerability
Traveling by motorcycle opens you up to meaningful exchanges.
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 which 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, a woman who worked there came outside to smoke 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 – 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.
Last night when I was looking through the notes I write for myself on my phone, 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.”