I was on the ferry to Manly Beach on a gorgeous sunny day, absorbed in the sights of Sydney Harbor.
A man had been looking in my direction, and seemed intent on speaking.
His question startled me.
Am I a “stranger” here? To me it was a deep question!
I consider myself a traveler, a world citizen, a connection, a mentor or a friend in waiting…I rarely “feel” like a stranger. If a place is strange to me, I’m about to discover it. It can no longer remain strange, and nor can I.
He seemed harmless, so I decided to respond to the question. Tall and thin, he spoke as if every word mattered.
I was about to find out how accurate my hunch was.
His name was Richard. He was happy to return to Sydney, his former home, and see Manly Beach, a favorite spot. He now lives south of the city a few hours’ drive, in a place where the cost of living is half that of Sydney. He had to move because he suddenly had become gravely ill, with a strep infection in his heart.
“I nearly died twice the first night. I was healthy and fit, a surfer and an athlete, but overnight I became an invalid. Life can change in an instant!”
Yes, it can. Is this the important message of our conversation, I wondered?
I asked him how he had recovered. His wife had nursed him back to health, then died of cancer, a grave second blow for him. Listening to him share his hardships, I was grateful that I had paused to listen and connect.
He shared that he had regained all his mathematical abilities but was upset that his language skills were not what they used to be. “I always used to exactly know the perfect word! I miss that.” A part of himself was still not in order, he felt.
I looked him in the eye, as a fellow human being who has also been through my own crises and scares, and said, “I can’t tell at all that you have an issue with words. You are very articulate.”
A big smile lit up his face, as he basked in this affirmation of his worth. I realized he never meant to ask if I was a “stranger” – he was struggling for the right word. I’m glad I turned out not to be a stranger after all!
I continued to connect on this beautiful day in Sydney, and made three more friends – Diane from Sydney, whom I met on the Cabarita ferry, a young Kiwi, Jaime, just returning from two years of travel (we yakked non-stop on the plane), and Bonnie from Kansas City, with whom I chatted in the Christchurch airport as she arrived to visit her grown son in New Zealand.
The gorgeous harbor felt like another friend – I’m happy to see and appreciate you, sparkling Sydney!
Everywhere I looked there was another opportunity to open up and connect – one of the great joys of travel, yet something we can do at home at any time.
I thought again about being seen as a “stranger” when I was staying on a farm in Oturehua, New Zealand. This time it was cows staring at me!
On my first day at this farm, I was walking along the country road past a neighbor’s barn. I suddenly heard thundering hooves in the field. A herd of about 40 cows was coming around the barn headed in my direction! As I looked at them, they all stopped in their tracks, and held their gaze. I found it odd and very funny, like they KNEW I was a stranger in these parts.
A day later I hiked the spectacular Central Otago Rail Trail. I passed many flocks of sheep on this 25 km trail from Auripo to Omakau.
As I walked I startled two sheep that had strayed near to the trail. They turned and bolted up the hill, then abruptly paused and looked over their shoulders! Do they KNOW I’m a stranger here…but harmless?
What makes you feel like a stranger and how do you get past it? What does the word mean to you? What did you like about my story? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.
See you on the road!