Thank You, Stranger

I sat in an Upper East Side cafe for a few hours yesterday. I guess it was a soul-searching kind of New York City night. The rain does that to us sometimes.

I was hoping to do some journal writing, the only kind of writing that gets my questions answered, forces me to think about the people I miss and why, and reminds me who I am underneath all of these layers of work, errands, and practical thinking.

I didn’t get very far last night. I tried, but my ears and eyes kept being drawn to a woman nearby.

She had to be at least eighty, if not more. She was talking about her husband to two younger women. She was telling stories of how they met–in New Hampshire, seventy years prior. He had been hired to do some work on her parents’ house. They would have lunch outside on the grass, walk to town in the late afternoons, watch sunsets from the roof while talking about their brothers and sisters, the ocean, dancing, and what was really going on in the sky with all of those stars.

She was mesmerizing.

Her hair was gray, wrapped in a bun on top of her head.

She had lines by her mouth for all of the years her husband made her laugh. She had lost him a few years back, but I could see in her eyes that he had never really left her side.

As she spoke of him, her face would come alive. I could see the lines on her forehead become pronounced as she raised her eyebrows remembering the time he accidentally lit her parents’ porch on fire while attempting a magic trick. (He was a bit of a daredevil, it seems. And would stop at nothing to try to impress her.)

I sat in that cafe listening as hard as I could two tables away, my eyes fixed on that woman who seemed so incredibly real, so full of humanity–the wonder, the imperfections, the brightness, the richness, the life.

Surrounded by beautiful people with skin botoxed to near perfection, hair flawlessly dyed, makeup applied with precision, she stood out as the one whose face told a story.

Surrounded by people guarded by their insecurities and well-built, aloof walls, she stood out as the one who wasn’t afraid to tell you whom she had loved and lost.

I never said hello. I don’t even know her name. But without ever looking my way, she reminded me of the kind of life that’s worth living.

She reminded me that faces that tell stories are so much more interesting than those made flawless by top doctors.

She reminded me that when you really love someone, your eyes should light up when you mention his name.

She reminded me that sharing stories of who we are and where we’ve been can be so incredibly powerful.

And she reminded me that yes, it may be gutsy to write your thoughts down in a journal. But it’s way more gutsy to say them aloud.

Thank you, stranger, whoever you are.

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