Part of Things

Over the past few months friends have asked if I like being back in the city. I answer with an emphatic YES. If pressed for a why, I say I like being part of things. At first those words just tumbled out of me. No more thought to it than that. But then I took some time to think about what I meant and this is what I came up with. I get to be with people. I get to put my antenna up and step into the zeitgeist. I get to listen and feel for what’s swirling around and then I get to think about it.

Take last Wednesday. A 60-something woman jumped on my tram and plonked herself next to me. We chatted about the weather. It was particularly cold, so worth talking about. I made a joke about it getting warmer now our tram was heading north. She chuckled at that. Then she told me she was off to visit family. She was nervous and wondered how it would go. Then out of the blue she leaned right into me and told me she was usually wary of strangers, not strangers like you she clarified, but others who might spell trouble.

Later that morning I caught another tram. We pulled into a stop. A middle-aged woman approached the door, white cane in one hand and a shoe-box sized package in the other. As she got closer I realised her cargo was cake. The label on the package was a dead giveaway. The tram steps were steep and the door was narrow, so I offered to help. Without a second’s thought she handed me her cake, then focused on finding a seat. Once settled, I returned the box to her lap. Made a joke about never dropping cake. She smiled then told me problems with her sight meant trams were always risky, and she could never be sure what strangers would do anyway. Curious I thought. She just handed this stranger her cake.

The following day I was at my bus stop. An elderly woman and her walking stick waited with me. Once again the cold became a talking point. We compared the number of layers we had on. I won with six. She told me she was new to the neighbourhood, that her husband had died, that her house had become too big and since she needed somewhere to feel safe because you don’t know what strangers will do, she’d moved to be close to her daughter.

Stranger. Odd that I should hear that word again and again in such a short space of time. But fear of the stranger appeared to be front and centre for those women. Possibly that’s the case for many. Yet despite that fear being voiced they chose to ignore it. We all felt into the space that’s supposed to separate us and connected instead, and while I can’t speak for them I’m glad that we did. So in this era where many are locked inside bleak loneliness, is a word like stranger doing us any favours? Imagine if we could jettison that hostile and callous word. Imagine the joy of being part of things extending far further than me.