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The Secrets of Strangers

It's been a feature of my life, ever since I can remember. Actually, since the age of about 13 when an older friend of my older sister unexpectedly opened up about the state of her impoverished life. She was almost twice my age. I was too immature and inexperienced to exchange any personal resources or offer up any words of wisdom. All I could do was lend a patient and listening ear, which I suppose is all that this young, depressed mother of three toddlers needed at that time. It was an interchange that somehow bonded us to one another for years to come. There must be something either witless or guileless about my expression or magnetising about my energy. For, since that day I have been the listener of countless ‘secrets’ and stories, latterly coming from clients but, over the years, from complete strangers and chance encounters.

Just today I was waiting at the bus stop. As the ‘wrong’ bus pulled up and pulled away, I noticed a tidily dressed male wearing a peaked cap making a beeline towards me. Our eyes met as I was caught off guard admiring his middle-aged sprightliness whilst wondering if his focus was upon someone behind me. He immediately launched into a conversation: about this, about that, but mainly bemoaning the pressures of life nowadays. I saw in his twinkly, smiley eyes the character of an Irish leprechaun. Not someone to be taken seriously. I took to him straight away and made a conscious decision to spare the time to engage in a little light-hearted banter. Within minutes he’d confessed that he had no idea how much money he’d earned over his entire working life, as he’d been accustomed to drinking the lot soon after pay day.

“Isn't that sad,” he said, without a trace of self-pity, or a whiff of drunkenness for that matter.

He was intrigued and impressed that I myself didn’t drink and that I wasn’t in the slightest bit religious (religion came into the discussion pretty quickly - him being Irish, I suppose it was inevitable). The therapist in me came out.

"Do you drink because you like the taste or because it helps you to stop feeling something or thinking about something?"

"Boredom." he shot back.

“I suppose the drink helps you to suppress that,” I replied, suggesting that the solution might be to find a way to rekindle his passion for life. What was it that excited him when he was younger - before adulthood kicked in, followed by all those traumatic experiences in the Falklands and Afghanistan (yes, he’d already splurged an unsolicited account of his war years)?

“Art,” he said as we boarded the bus, “I love going to art galleries.”

Hmm, I began thinking... As he took the seat in front of me he swivelled round, his eyes dancing.

“Only kidding!” he laughed, “I wouldn’t have the brains for art galleries.”

“You don’t need brains,” I said, suddenly determined to find him a purpose, “Just a pair of eyes that can see and appreciate. And there are so many free galleries around Lon...”

My line didn’t seem to be engaging him so I pressed him some more about his interests.

“Fishing.” He finally offered up, “The simple things.”

“That’s it,” I said. “Go fishing. You never know who you might meet or what might happen on a fishing trip.”

The bus took a sharp left. In that instant, fate showed me that I had been somehow destined to meet this Irish stranger. Why? This was a routine journey I’d taken many times, so it was an unusual quirk that I’d absentmindedly watched my local bus pull away only to board the wrong bus. I hurried onto the platform, rang the bell, and called out a hasty goodbye to my newly acquired friend. As I hopped off, a cheeky leprechaun head leaned into the grimy window pane and blew me a departing kiss. I smiled back and felt a moment of wistfulness. In my encounter with this stranger, I’d chosen to break out of my normally private everyday world in favour of openness and relaxation, and had breached one of reality’s illusions: that we exist in Separation from our fellow humans. Sharing intimacy and secrets unites us with one another in a way that brings meaning to our otherwise disconnected lives, showing us that there’s nothing more liberating in the pursuit of freedom and happiness, than the airing of personal Truth.

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