Stopping strangers has become a habit of mine. Habit might be too strong of a word. Tendency, perhaps.
Before moving to the city, I explored a Vancouver neighbourhood to see if it was an area I wanted to consider living in. I walked the streets and stopped a girl who looked about my age. “Hey, do you live around here?”
She did. She liked it. That was enough for me.
A week later, I moved and ran into her on the way to Granville Street. This time she stopped me.
“So you moved here?”
“Yeah, I did!” I was excited to make my first friend in the neighbourhood.
Turns out we live four buildings away from each other on the same street. A few days later, she came over one evening to help me eat brownies. We shared our stories.
There are so many people to meet, I can get overwhelmed thinking about it. So many possibilities, so many conversations, so many intersections.
My friends laugh when I tell them about my street-stopping antics. I think they think I just go up to everyone now and talk to them. This is hardly the case. There are some people who I won’t stop. Or just don’t.
I started thinking though, is it really strange to stop people? It’s normal for this guy, and look at all the amazing stories he hears because he simply stops people on the street and asks them a few questions. I know it’s his job, but still. What a great job.
I recently met my apartment neighbour for the first time. I guess I could have knocked on her door if I really wanted to meet her earlier, (I was fairly certain she was a girl because of the wreath on her door), but I like when things happen more naturally. For instance, we both happen to be locking our doors at the same time, climbing up the stairs, or collecting our mail. And so it happened in such a way the other day. I arrive on my floor and hear the sound of a key turning. It sounds like it’s near my suite so I walk a little faster to make sure I don’t miss the few seconds between the opening and closing of a door. I’m not too late.
“Hey neighbour!” I exclaim. “I’ve been waiting to meet you!” (No, I don’t say the second part, but I’m thinking it).
“Hey!” she says back. She’s slightly older than I am, fiddling with the handle on a piece of luggage. Turns out she wasn’t around earlier anyway because she had gone abroad for a month. She welcomes me to the building. I welcome her back to Canada. We don’t talk long, but long enough for me to think I’d like to invite her over sometime. She says at the end, “Thanks for saying hi. You’re the first person who’s ever introduced themselves to me in this building.”
“Oh, really? How long have you lived here?”
Four years and no one’s ever said hi?! Not even over the one token laundry machine in the building shared amongst thirty people where you’re bound to run into someone? But I’m not really shocked. You can see how easily it happens. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat, sleep. Repeat. Everybody in their separate apartments, separate cars, separate spaces, separate worlds. As I asked last week, “Are we together or are we alone together?”
I’m finding I’m getting stopped myself more often. Maybe it’s that idea that what you put out into the world, you get back. Some kind of magnetism.
I got stopped for two hours on the Seawall last Sunday from a grandfatherly Greek man who approached me with the question, “How’s the book?”
I am slowly working my way through The Brothers Karamazov (my summer project) and the answer to that question is not a simple, one-word answer. It’s mentally and spiritually exhausting and exhilarating at the same time and maybe I was relieved to have someone to talk about it with. Some books scream to be discussed and when you’re not sitting in an English class anymore, you have to work harder to make it mean something. The funny thing is, we didn’t end up talking much about the book, and I didn’t end up doing most of the talking. I think he really needed to tell his story to someone so I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. I sat on the bench and listened. He wants to write his story in a book one day, but he told me the time is not yet. He has to go away to write it.
In my Ottawa life, I lay on a bench one afternoon, eyes to the sky, soaking up the sun behind the Parliament buildings when another stranger stopped me. He asked me what I was thinking about. I don’t recall I was thinking about anything profound but his question intrigued me. Hardly anyone begins a conversation this way.
In one of my short stories, a girl stops a guy who is painting en plein air and it is the start of something new for each of them.
I think I like stops so much because they aren’t really stops in the sense that they’re roadblocks or endings. They’re more like beginnings. Time out of the day to see someone or something differently. I wrote about another one here.
After encounters like these, I often think, “This should happen more often.” There’s something kind of magical about strangers’ lives intersecting at a particular moment in time, in a particular space, for a particular conversation that both people probably need to have.
You come to someone and they come to you. Of course it’s a little scary, but then I remember Jim’s words to Laura in The Glass Menagerie:
People are not so dreadful when you know them.
And it’s true. They’re lovely, actually.