The more I tried, the more impossible it seemed to make contact with a stranger.
As I wandered around New York city incapable of talking to anyone, I asked myself why people would even want to share their story with a complete stranger.
I looked at people’s faces, some friendly glances, eyes that would avoid me. Sometimes I became hopeful that this or that person would be the stranger I was supposed to meet today.
I watched people’s bodily postures, the ones that were on a mission – or at least pretending to be – the ones lonely and in search of encounters too.
However, today I was not looking for stories of sadness and despair, even though you would say that meeting a stranger could be any kind of meeting really.
I searched for people with philosophies of life.
People look at their phones. They too look for contact, ‘the other’ as a digital version.
Why is it hard to meet a real stranger of flesh and blood?
There are hundreds of people I have passed by today and there is not one person I am able to address properly, except from the friendly smiles and small and clumsy attempts to speak.
“Hello, sorry to disturb you….do you have a story to share with me?” I practice in my head.
I can already hear their answer, I have asked this question so many times before.“What kind of story do you want?” They will answer me. “Any story”, I will reply , “a childhood memory, a story of love, hate, sadness, joy, of travel or of an encounter with a stranger that changed your life.” They will start to tell their story, hesitantly at first, but then the memories will come….
Suddenly I wake up from my dreamlike state where meeting a stranger – whom I am afraid not to meet today – is filling my mind. Next to me I hear a woman say:
“I better kill myself, what else can I do? No job, no money, no food.”
With a pang I am brought back into the present moment. I look at her and ask her if she is fine. She tells me that she does intuitive counselling. Although I am not sure what that means I nod and tell her how difficult it must be for her to be without work, money and food. She tells me that she can still pay the rent, but nothing else. After she has told me that, she switches her bench for the third time and repeats what she has just said to the empty seat next to her.