The world is a strange, strange place. Things feel especially out of wack these days — so much so that it can be hard to stop to appreciate beauty in small details or the kindness of strangers. After all, we arrived on this planet alone and we're bound to leave it the same way. But sometimes it's important to take a second away from our personal struggles and self-absorption to remember that we don't live here alone — our actions affect people around us, and we are also bound to discover some joy at the hands of strangers if we can open our eyes to the world.
A recent Reddit thread covered exactly these encounters. Someone asked the community to tell stories of the most memorable moments they shared with a stranger they never saw again. Reach for a Kleenex — these posts show the huge difference a small gesture can make.
1. Who doesn't love a bear hug?
I've shared this on reddit before. The day I found out my grandmother had a stroke and would never walk or talk again, I was away at college. I finally broke down in a bathroom. A girl came in and asked if I needed a hug. I was crying so hard that I really didn't get a look at her face. I cried on her shoulder for about 10 minutes and then had to pull myself together and leave for class. I never explained myself and she never asked. I never recognized or spoke to her again. I wonder if she sometimes saw me on campus and wondered what was up and if I was okay.
2. Or to be comforted when you've been trapped after a devastating earthquake?
When I was 14, I was trapped in the rubble of an earthquake. I spent six hours crawling towards a man whose face I never had the opportunity to see... He was a citizen who didn't leave his name with anyone and never came forward, after the fact. It has always bothered me that I will likely never find out who he was or tell him how much comfort his voice gave me during those horrible hours. When I saw pictures of the space I ended up in, much later, I couldn't (and can't) understand how he was able to stand where he stood for six hours without injuring himself or suffering some sort of emotional trauma himself. He's my hero.
3. Driving long distances can be boring, unless someone like this has your back.
I had about a two-hour drive from Columbus to the Cleveland area. I tend to drive on the faster side, and therefore pass a lot of people. I noticed about 20 minutes into the drive that the car behind me was still the same one that got onto the highway right behind me. We ended up driving the entire two hours right next to each other or in front of/behind each other. We created space in lanes to help the other pass the slower cars and made sure the other wouldn’t fall behind. As I was getting off the highway, he honked his horn, gave me a big smile, and waved. It has been my favorite driving experience so far.
4. Good things come to those who give back.
When I was studying abroad in Lithuania I volunteered at a soup kitchen and every now and again there would be an older lady helping out who dropped off supplies. We would smile at each other and say hello even through the language barrier. Well one night I went to Easter mass in the town I was volunteering in and it was warmer during the day so I didn’t think about bringing a heavier jacket once it got dark, not to mention the church was this old massive building. So I’m sitting through mass and I’m getting colder and start shivering pretty noticeably, when all of a sudden I feel someone drape a scarf over my shoulders. I turn around and it’s the lady who would drop off supplies at the soup kitchen! Once mass was over, I tried to return the scarf but she refused to take it back. I did my best to extend my gratitude through the language barrier but I’m sure she knew. It was the most beautiful and kindest thing that has ever happened to me. The was the last time I saw her and I will never forget her kindness towards me. It still tears me up thinking about it.
5. A shaky start brought these strangers together on a train.
I was on an eastbound train from Colorado two days before Christmas. There was some kind of incident in another car around 11:00 that night — a dude got wasted and started threatening other passengers — and we had to make a stop so that the local police could come and collect him.
After the delay, the conductor came over the speakers and announced that if anyone was feeling upset or shaken by the incident, one of the passengers had offered to play his guitar in the snack car and anyone who was awake was welcome to come down and join in for a singalong. I'm always down for weird train activities, so I decided to grab my harmonica from my bag and head down.
There were about fifteen of us in the car, ranging in age from 16 to mid-70s and from all over the country. We sang every song we could think of that even kind of referenced a train — we were somewhere in rural Nebraska at that point and nobody had cell service to look up lyrics, so at times I was pretty sure that we were making up more of the words than we actually remembered. The conductor came through after a while and offered to play a few songs, so the guy with the guitar handed it off and pulled out a mandolin, and my harmonica got passed around the group while one guy drummed along on his backpack.
After a while, the conductor got up and left, then came back with a copy of The Polar Express. He read it out loud to our absolutely captivated group of mostly adult travelers while the snow flew all around us in the night, and I swear that for a few minutes our trip felt every bit as magical as the visit to Santa Claus in the story.
Sometime well after the snack car was supposed to have been vacated for the night, we capped things off with the most ridiculously earnest rendition of "Don't Stop Believing" that has ever been performed and went our separate ways. I never saw anyone from our little makeshift band again, but I'll always remember that weird, wonderful late-night celebration of Journey and the magic of winter travel that came about because some guy was a jacka-- on a train.
6. There are times when only a stranger can bring you out of your funk.
On a night out, I was feeling pretty rough so I was sat down on some steps eating a box of hot chips. This group of girls walked past, one of them in a yellow with black polka dot dress and a flower halo broke off and sat next to me. She had a thick Irish accent.
What's yer name
Anette. Ask me where I live.
....all right, where do you live?
She grabbed one of my chips, put it in her mouth and said "in the f--king moment" kissed my forehead and ran off to join her group again.
Still think about her.
7. You never know what a stranger is coping with, but it can't hurt to offer a hand.
The day my dad died I was holding it together pretty well. Late that night I went to Target to have a moment to just zone out, and buy a few groceries.
As I got to the [checkout counter] with my arm full of stuff I dropped a container of sour cream and it exploded everywhere. I completely lost control of myself and started to cry. The ugly cry. I was instantly surrounded by a group of women who just took charge of the whole situation. They helped me get everything paid for, cleaned up, and one lady even got a new sour cream.
No words were spoken, but their compassion and take charge attitude has stayed with me since.
8. This tender passenger helped everyone onboard.
I was on a flight once and my seat was right next to a woman with a screaming baby. I love babies so I offered to hold her for the woman, who was clearly frazzled and had her arms full trying to get settled. She handed the baby over and I calmed her down and held her for most of the flight. At one point the mother went to the bathroom and the flight attendant came over and offered me another seat so I wouldn’t be bothered by the baby. I declined and played with the baby the whole flight. I loved it. It was a win-win-win. The mom got a few minutes to herself, I got to play with a baby, and the rest of the passengers didn’t have to listen to a screaming baby anymore.
9. If you look around, you might just find a kindred spirit.
I was playing on my Nintendo DS in the subway when I caught a random connection. I looked up to see if I could spot the other person with a DS, and wound up locking eyes with this incredibly intense little boy who was seated a few benches away from me.
"DO YOU HAVE POKEMON" he asked, and as it turned out, I did in fact have Pokemon. With that, our fate was sealed. There's this thing in the Pokemon games where, if you meet the gaze of another trainer on your journey, then you must battle. I had just experienced this in real life.
He destroyed me. All level 100s. Felt like I was an extra in the damn anime doing battle with the protagonist.
10. Or someone to share in your toilet woes.
This was about two years ago, when I was in university. I was having some gas pains, so I went to use the bathroom. I was the only one in there, but someone came in shortly after, so I decided to wait until she was done. She apparently was in the same situation as me, so we were both just sitting in silence waiting for the other to leave, occasionally letting out tiny toots.
Finally, she says, "Can we both just fart?" I laugh and say "Yes please!" And for about a minute after, both of us are simultaneously laughing and farting. Laughing because we're farting, and farting because we'e laughing.
We finished at about the same time and said hello as we washed our hands. I never saw her again. I still giggle every time I think of it.
11. If you're paying attention, you might just meet an oracle.
NYC bar: I was on a first date and there was an old guy at the bar — looked like an old fisherman from a novel — and he was convinced my date and I were already married. He went on and on about it. We said we weren’t married and he told us we were meant to be together and would be married a long time. He talked with us for a good 15 minutes about this. My date and I did get married about a year later and have been together almost 25 years now.
12. Or someone who literally saves your life.
"I'll share the Cliffnotes version since it sounds so unreal. Years ago, I walked to a bridge with the intention of killing myself by jumping off. Met a guy there who wouldn't stop hovering around me, eventually he approaches me and tells me that ""I have bad spirits around me" and that I should keep my head up and not give in to them. He then asks if he can smudge me.
I didn't know what that [meant] but agreed anyway. He pulls out sage, a lighter and a shell from his backpack, and proceeds to bless me right there. As soon as he finishes, a bunch of birds (seagulls, crows and pigeons) all come flying over and fly in circles above us. He said that they were telling me my life was about to turn around and then he said goodbye and left.
My life did change that day, big time. And when my mind occasionally creeps back to dark places, I think of him and it pulls me back.
13. Look around you. Someone out there will be kind enough to return even your most prized possession.
I was about 10 years old and I had a pair of HEELYS and they were the coolest f--king thing on the earth. I would roll all over on those things and thought I was hot sh-t.
We were in China, spending a few weeks in Beijing. I was rolling around in Tiananmen Square, hit a crack and lost one of the wheels. I looked around for about an hour, but to no avail. I was probably visibly bummed, as my Heelys, the things that made me hot sh-t, were now ineffective and basically ruined. The next morning, I was walking through the square on the way to meet my friends, and an older gentleman ran up to me and stopped me — he had found my wheel. He said that he had seen me rolling around and saw me looking for the wheel after I fell. He saw that I gave up, and stuck around for another hour to keep looking after I left. He came there the next morning with no expectation that I's pass through, but wanted to be there just in case. I'm not sure who was happier, me that I got my wheel back or him because he didn't think he'd see me in literally the world's busiest square. I said thank you and...that was about it. We both had places to be and that was that.
Never underestimate the generosity of strangers! And be sure to pay it forward from time to time, too.