The Half-Hour Friends
As children, we are told to be careful when we are around strangers. Don’t eat food or snacks a stranger might offer. Don’t drink water or juice that someone unfamiliar might hand you, even if he seems friendly. Don’t talk to unknown people. Don’t give away information to random co passengers.
As an adult, I think there is a certain level of comfort around strangers. There is an almost tangible assurance that you might never see them again. I’m sure you must have felt that way too, at least occasionally. If you met someone who just listened and agreed with you, wouldn’t that be a piece of heaven right there? You meet someone on a bus to your hometown or the local train on your way to work. You smile, you exchange pleasantries and strike a chord. If both of you hate a novelist or enjoy embroidery or are fans of an actor, there is enough conversation to last the journey.
You could choose to vent about your dominating but underqualified boss or bitch about your wife’s cooking or the mess the children make of the house or your husband’s spendthrift habits or woes of the in laws or noisy neighbors or barking dogs or smelly apartments and get away with it. There is no way the stranger will meet anybody else from your life and so you can rest assured your secrets are safe. For the duration of that journey, the stranger is your trusted friend.
The stranger by your side is non judging, giving all her attention and just being in the present; not worrying about the next hour, not planning the future, not battling ghosts of the past. Perhaps, she is taking solace in the fact that she is not the only employee who lies about being sick for a day off, or that she is not alone in battling the mother syndrome, leaving her infant at day care because she has to work. Fundamentally, these scraps of conversations with faces you may not remember tomorrow help in keeping our heads sane, giving us an opportunity to vent without being overheard or the consequences of talking to a relative.
These conversations that we have with strangers, I would put them on the top of my list of the most honest conversations. Next time you see someone sitting in the train and smiling from behind a tired and exhausted face, perhaps if you strike a conversation, she might be able to smile a bit for real, even if it is for a little while. I feel that we have shut ourselves too much and talk too little in the whole pursuit of the best status update or a super profile picture. Maybe if we struck more conversations and kept digital conversations at bay, the world will be a more relaxed and chirpy place overall.