Talking to strangers has always been something I’ve been comfortable with. I thrive in a room where no one knows my name or anything about that time I was caught with the guy down the road (or with one too many drinks in my system). I enjoy the power it gives me, the power to recreate myself every time. I love knowing that there are hundreds of stories to devour right there, right in front of me. I get excited, nervous almost, to grab a hold of as many as I can, treating them as these special little nuggets of humanity.
When I recently went on a backpacking adventure alone, I knew it was up to me to ensure that I had company along the way and to maintain to courage to do so. This meant finding strangers to make friends with, developing a level of comfort that extended beyond the ‘we should catch up one day’, to ‘hey, do you want to come to Switzerland with me… tomorrow?’ This meant I had to trust myself and not worry about whether the other person was ‘too cool’ for me.
I had dinner with a young guy I would have never had the opportunity to meet otherwise. He had gone from sharing jail cells with Australia’s most infamous, to working high up the corporate ladder in reputable companies worldwide. I slept on a beach with three guys I met crossing the Mediterranean by boat, sharing stories in between sips of rum underneath the stars. I met an anarchist while crossing the English Channel who told me I needed to really ‘commit to a lifestyle’. He had committed to the squatting, dumpster diving, freight train surfing activities that you usually only read about in Kerouac. He showed his art that he carried in his backpack and taught me how to use my thrift shop film camera. I slept on the kitchen floor of a politically driven Swedish character in Stockholm. I travelled to four countries with a girl I met in a coastal town in Italy. These strangers became invaluable characters in the story of my journey, and it made me realise how important it is to see the value of each person regardless of appearance, social status and beliefs. If anything, it was these polar differences that allowed me to develop a deeper understanding of the human experience.
One of my most meaningful conversations I’ve had with a stranger, was a couple of years ago, when on a train through Sydney I met a young Aboriginal woman called Bambi and her daughter. I was travelling down after a weekend of art at a lighthouse by the beach and had suitcases of supplies piled up on the seat across from me. Bambi’s daughter was running up and down the carriages making noise and causing trouble. I called her over and asked if she wanted to play with my new pencils in my journal. Soon enough she was curled up on the floor of the train scribbling away in silence and I was talking to her mother about art, spirituality and life. She talked about her work as a poet and after an hour or so of conversation, asked whether she could write me a poem. I handed over a notebook and she wrote away, occasionally peering over at me, deep in thought. I still have that poem and her daughter’s scribbles today.
When I start telling stories about the people that I’ve met and the personal stories we have shared with each other, I am often greeted with the conservative ‘well, that was risky’ or even a slight but sassy eyebrow raise. This is particularly the case when I share the story about an older well- tattooed man I met on a train back to Sydney from the Central Coast, who had just been released from jail after an accessory to murder charge. I don’t mean to say that there are no risks in talking to strangers, and I do believe intuition plays a large and powerful role. However, sometimes it’s worth the risk otherwise you’ll spend your entire life in a little comfort bubble and never see that life extends and flourishes far beyond it.
However since returning from Europe, I’ve shied away from people. I no longer want those huge rooms of unfamiliar faces. I don’t even want huge rooms of familiar ones. I am taking the time to appreciate the fact that while it is incredible to learn from, eat with and share stories with people from very different worlds, there is absolutely nothing like the smile from a loved one who realises that your latest accomplishment is much more important than it seems, or to see their eyes light up when talking about something you know they’ve loved for years. While it’s important to realise the potential for connection in each soul that passes by, it is equally significant to hold close to those people you have already built meaningful and lasting connections with.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not abandoning my old ways. This weekend I’m having coffee with a woman I met at a nail salon- and I’m excited at the opportunities that await me at that meeting. However, after going seven months without the girls and guys who have known me for years, I’ve realised the value in having that connection with people. There is still plenty to learn and plenty to share from those friendships, and their power should never be disregarded.
Ruby is a university student who is best known for her creative methods in avoiding class. She prefers to gallivant in forests and under waterfalls, attempt pottery and mixed media and read novels completely unrelated to her degree. She is loud and messy and contemplative and struggles to stay in one place for an extended period of time. You can usually figure out her location via her blog/ Instagram.