STRANGERS LIKE ME
Today, I met a man whose wife is dying right now. He came to see someone else, and found me here instead. We talked for an hour or so, and I hope he comes back tomorrow or at least next week. Next week’s conversation will be different, since I won’t be alone.
He told me that at 65, he has never been in love. His wife of forty years is near her end, and he feels a guilty relief at not having to pretend to love her any more. Did his brutally abusive childhood make him want too much out of a woman? He has longed for an equal partner for his whole life, and has only found that when a woman loves him, he wants something indescribably different than what she is. His own mother and the other adult women in his boyhood used him and beat him, and he never knew even a hug from a woman until he was grown. He has been quietly looking for his soul mate while raising children and grandchildren with the woman he married, a woman whom he cares for, but cannot love. He hopes that it’s not too late for him.
Now, I know that man. I like him, and I hope he comes back and tells me more about himself. I told him a little about my failures at love, and the marriages that accompanied them, and my success as it stands today. I have that One, and I am unshakably sure of it. There’s no ring on my finger to prove anything, but metal and minerals don’t matter a damn. That sweet, sad, unjaded man agrees.
We all have our stories. How do strangers decide whom to tell their tales of love and war? Why did this man quietly say things to me that most people would never admit to anyone? I have reams of stories in my memory, pages and pages of people’s joys and woes. They’ve told me across smeary bar tables, gleaming deli cases, marble bakery counters, and now a heavy table littered with scales and tools and tiny chemical bottles. When I am a stranger, I hear more than I sometimes want to hear, but some things need to be said out loud. I listen, and I comment, and when asked, I share a little. Strangers like me. They are like me. We all have our stories, and sometimes no one to tell.
In this strange place, where everyone knows everyone but me, I will hear more than I want to hear. What I want and what happens can be different; this makes me a better person. If I can listen and not judge, but really hear and empathize, I will most certainly be stronger for it.