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A beautiful moment with a stranger

ยท 5 min read

Last week, on a routine trip to the mall, I saw a person wearing a sweater with the symbol of my alma mater. I wanted to say hello, but they1 were working on their laptop, and I wasn't sure whether it would be okay to say hello. I didn't know what the protocol is, and I don't know if there really is one.

After much deliberation, I decided that it was okay to say hello. I thought about how I would feel if I didn't say hello: much regret. I thought about what could possibly go wrong: not very much. I thought about what could go well: everything. I thought about the chance of things going well: very slim, but what does it matter? I have everything to gain and nothing to lose. I live today, but tomorrow is not promised.

I tried to be careful, considerate, and respectful. Here's is roughly how it went. I've redacted some identifying details.

I asked, "Excuse me, can I ask you a question?"
They nodded.
"Are you wearing a sweatshirt from [the university I went to]?"
"Yeah," they said. "Do you go to [the university I went to]?"
"No, I go to [a different university]. Do you go to [the university I went to]?"
"That's cool. Yeah, I graduated last year."
"That's cool."
"How did you get the sweater then?"
"I got it a few years ago [from ...]."
"Oh that's cool. What do you study at [a different university]?"
"[Some STEM field]. What about you? What did you study at [the university I went to]?"
"Math and philosophy."
"No way, I study philosophy too! That's my second major!"
"Why didn't you just say that?" I asked.
"Because then I have to explain it."
"I get that," I said. "Do you want to chat?"
"Yeah, sure."
I sat down across from them. We chatted for an hour, until the mall closed and a security guard told us to leave.

We talked like we were meeting for the first time in college. We talked about how we got into philosophy, how we got into our respective STEM fields, and what we like in each field. We talked about our current jobs, what we like and don't like about them, and what we want to learn more about. We talked about our reading habits and some of our insecurities. We talked about where we grew up and what we like to do. We talked about the differences between life in school and work and how it's difficult to find people with the same interests as us in college, let alone in the wild.

The conversation felt like a beautiful moment even though it was an hour long. It was perhaps the best conversation I've had with a stranger in the wild after graduating from college and starting to work. When I was chatting with them, I felt that nothing else mattered to me except for them and what they were saying. To my surprise, it seemed like they were experiencing something similar. They were very engaging and responsive. They didn't text or type on their laptop while I was talking. When I asked them a question, they elaborated on their responses and shared beyond what I asked. Then they asked me the same question back and followed up on what I said. I shared my thoughts and passions, and I felt that they understood me. They broke away much of the loneliness that has been building inside of me for the last couple years. They heard where I had been, where I am now, and where I want to go. I shared my essence without fear of judgment, critique, or retribution. I let myself be who I am, and I simply was.

I believe that this person is amazing and awesome for being so open-minded, curious, and kind to a stranger like me. It didn't matter to them that my haircut was long overdue or that I was wearing a nosebleed-stained pajama shirt with mismatched jackets. They still chatted with me. It's very rare to find someone so willing to engage in substantive conversation with a stranger. I believe people like them make the world a better place. Thank you, stranger, for your time. I wish you all the best.

Beautiful moments like these and amazing people like them inspire me to be a better person. It's easy for me to get tired of learning and improving without people around me who are interested in doing the same. But beautiful moments and amazing people make me want to read more to further expand my perspective, write about how I feel and what I learn, and have hope for a better future. They make me want to reflect, ponder, and improve so I can lift others and pursue change. They make me want to prepare myself by continuing to develop my own knowledge, sense of self, and emotional maturity. They make me want to continue what I've been doing. They remind me of how it feels to want to live, and they give me strength and reason to carry on.

  1. I don't know what their pronouns are. I use they/them to conceal their identity. โ†ฉ