A Perfect Stranger

Weekly Writing Challenge: Instead of giving in to the urge to take a picture, write down your impressions of the scene. Who’s around? What sounds do you hear? What emotions are you experiencing?

I’ve been pretty obsessed with the 100 Strangers Project the past few weeks. Approaching interesting strangers on the street, asking to photograph them, and finding out a little bit about them in the process has pushed me out of my comfort zone in a really amazing way. Capturing the one shot, that you hope is the perfect representation of the stranger you have chosen, has been an exciting, sometimes frustrating and occasionally exhilarating experience.

So when I read this week’s writing challenge, I thought “hmmm, this is the exact opposite of what I’m into”. As I read further though, I thought of one stranger I saw on the bus last week. A missed opportunity I had thought at the time, but now, I’m thinking that maybe she is the perfect stranger to write about, instead of trying to photograph.

It was a rainy, dreary, Monday evening with commuters bundled up in dripping wet jackets, hoods pulled low and awkward umbrellas everywhere. As I surveyed the surly faces around me, almost everyone looked like they were in a dark, dreary mood to match the weather. I hopped on the bus and stood, wedged between two people, in the usual 5pm sardine can style when I noticed a woman wearing a pink, fuzzy hat and really big wire rimmed glasses, sitting in front of me. There was something about her. A sweetness and an innocence that made me stare and think, wow, I would love to photograph her.

Then, suddenly, she spoke. She was looking for the Davie Street stop and the bus was so jam packed that she couldn’t see where she was. As she spoke, it became obvious that her hearing was very impaired. I answered her that Davie Street was three stops away by smiling and holding up three fingers. She smiled and talked about how busy the bus was and how she had been shopping downtown and lost track of the time so ended up trying to get home in rush hour. She was so open, friendly and expecting everyone else to be friendly that I was a little mesmerized with her. A ray of sunshine on a gloomy bus ride home. I took out one of my cards and wrote, I am part of the flickr 100 strangers project. Can I take your photograph? I had my card in my hand, ready to give it to her when she stood up and turned away from me as she struggled to exit the crowded bus. I thought of tapping her on the shoulder but was too shy. I watched her as she stepped off the bus and headed to Davie Street, smiling at people she passed on the way. A big missed opportunity, I thought.

But now, looking back, so much about her was intangible and probably couldn’t have been recorded by my camera. She made me think about how many frowning or blank faces surrounded me on the bus. Yet this woman who probably had way more challenges in life than the rest of us put together, was smiling and chatting on a packed, humid bus, full of dour, dripping wet commuters. And why aren’t more of us chatting with each other I thought? We stand, side by side, staring out the window with our headphones or sunglasses on, doing our best to prevent any interaction with our fellow human beings. I was really grateful that this wonderful stranger, with her pink hat and amazing attitude ended up sitting in front of me on the bus.

This life, I believe, is pretty much all about attitude. If we heal our wounds as much as we can, be kind to ourselves and start every day expecting the best, I bet we’ll get it.

That’s what my perfect stranger taught me in just those few minutes standing beside her on the bus.

I doubt my camera could have done her justice.


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