My mother taught me never to talk to strangers. She said NOTHING about holding hands with them.
I held hands with a Stranger today and I think it may have changed my life.
It's early morning at the gym. Before my coffee. Before my makeup. Before my ritualistic first ten minutes of Regis and Kelly. I am sweating out a set of intervals on the elliptical, resisting the urge to belt out Bohemian Rhapsody and turn my 8a.m. gym call into an episode of Glee. The incline shifts just as I am getting into Brian May's epic guitar solo and I am thrown off balance. I clutch onto the elliptical, my heart shuffles to find its bearing and I realize (after a solid five seconds or so) that I am not holding onto the elliptical. My right hand is clutching the hand of the Man next to me.
He looks as though he is probably a grandfather. He wears a white tee shirt and a cheerful demeanor. And he is staring at me. Laughing.
I am only an hour into the day and I already have given myself the recommended daily intake of embarrassment in a 5-second stretch. As I am scrambling to make words fall out of my mouth to apologize to this stranger, who now clearly knows that my palms sweat when I work out, I find I am continuing to fuel his laughter. His Smile Grows Wider. He Is Tickled Over The Hilarity That Is This Moment.
"That was the best hand I have held in a long time," he says to me.
And maybe I should be creeped out? Probably some of you are reading this and thinking "that is very creepy, Hannah." But I started to laugh with the Man for a few brief moments. The laughing feels almost foreign to me. As if I have not laughed in weeks. As if I have needed this great laugh for a while now.
After the brief bout of laughter subsides, I realize that he and I have unintentionally bridged a connection. We have crossed the River that is called Strangers. And I think we are better because of it.
Every single day we cross paths with dozens of people who are Strangers. We know nothing about them. We don't know how they take their coffee or what propels them to wake up each day. We could be standing next to them in the supermarket and we don't know who they are making dinner for tonight. Who is not showing up to their table, even though they are praying they will. If They Are Eating Alone Tonight.
We are all Strangers. Perhaps not in our houses or at our place of work, but the second Someone walks in with an unfamiliar set of dimples and a walk and talk have never been introduced to before we are slipped right back into our spot as Strangers. Designated Strangers.
As I am making my way up to the eighth interval I still thinking about that Stranger that I had just held hands with. He has wiped off the machine next to me and moved on in life, but I am still running the interaction through my head. Wondering if he is married. If he met the love of his life. If he was happy in his occupation. If he is happy. All because he laughed and I laughed and we basked in the commonality.
You see, we really don't know enough about Strangers to judge them. We waste so much time carving out our enemies and the people "we don't like" long before (or if ever) we open our mouths to talk to them. To ask them about their day. To help them work the machine next to us, or pick out a birthday card. But everyone we have ever known came tumbling into our lives with the title of Stranger. And for reasons we cannot always remember, we started a conversation. An interaction. A Friendly Gesture. And We Shattered The Word "Strangers" Into Pieces.
We. Shattered. The. Word. Strangers. Into. Pieces.
I think we are so absorbed with being Strangers that it hinders us. It keeps us from stretching out our palm for a hand shake or asking for a opinion. We tote our Stranger stigmas and we miss out on a great deal of people with the potential to Shake Our Souls, Push Our Limits, Plant An Idea In Our Head That Won't Soon Go Away.It keeps us from fully relating to one another, from being there for one another even if we haven't known a person all of our lives.
Life is too short to not take up those smiles that say "I know how you feel right now," pearls of wisdom, and helping hands; even if they are the smiles, pearls and hands of strangers.
So this is a posed challenge for all of us, to talk to Strangers. Perhaps not in dark alleys or at the Shell station at 10p.m. But I figure: We have nothing to lose and a world of knowledge to gain from people we don't yet know. We may be from very different walks of life, but for a fleeting second, five minutes or a good chunk of our time, we might decide to walk together. And we might be better for that.
And to that man, next to me this morning, who "saved my life" by keeping me balanced and provided me with the laughter I didn't know I needed: Thank you. Your hand is the best one that I have held in a long time too.