She wears a plain brown zip-up hoodie. I used to pass her while walking the loop down off my hill and across part of the Provo River Trail and back up the other side. Her hair is the same light-brown color mine used to be before mine mysteriously went dark and is usually pulled up. I’m not great with ages, but I would guess she is younger than I am, maybe by at least ten years. Her pace is slow, but steady. From what I can tell of the various places at which I have passed her over the last couple of years (and, if I am to be honest, she is passing me, for I am only walking and she is always jogging), her route is at the very least three miles, 2.9 to me exact. But for all I know, she could run for hours. She seems to run the same route every day, which is more than I can say for myself. I don’t know her name. She generally doesn’t even smile back at me when I smile, nod or say “Good morning!” (Yes. I am one of those people.) Now, my walking routine on hold, I only see her on the days I drive carpool to the junior high. Still, I wonder who she is and what is the source of her serious demeanor. Is she focused? Sad? Determined? Lonely? All I know is that she has a story. And that so little of her outward appearance offers any clue as to what makes up her apparent stoicism.
Another woman frequents the same route. I generally notice her on my way home from work. Or sometimes on my way to the local grocery store. If I had to guess, based on her attire, I would say she is walking home from work. She is older than I am and has dark hair. The kind you have done once a week at the local salon or that lady in your neighborhood’s basement salon. At least I think she does. What I notice most about her is not her appearance, but what she is doing. Some people can walk and chew gum. This woman can walk and make a scarf or a sweater. I want to call her the Knitting Lady II (after one of my favorite Knitting Ladies whom I used to regularly observe at BYU sporting events), but now that I think about it, surely she is crocheting instead. A wiser choice if one is not watching where she is going, but rather focusing on the next perfect row of stitches. Although it’s possible she is so good at what she does she can do it without looking and is perfectly safe walking down the street with large, sharp needles flying furiously. I’m sure she lives in my stake and that if I described her to anyone on the hill they would know exactly about whom I meant. But I don’t know her name. Or her story. Only that she has both.
I pass by strangers everywhere: on the river trail; in line at the local grocery store, or big-chain Costco; coming and going from this or that softball game; or in the attendance office at one of my children’s schools. Some avoid my always proffered eye contact and ready smile. Others chat me up while I’m waiting with my kids at the dentist office or lean forward, interrupting my quiet game of Scramble with Friends, in order to share with me something they loved in the waiting room copy of most recent issue of Good Housekeeping (different woman, same dentist office, two weeks later). Admittedly I am generally more like the latter. More likely to smile, say “Hello,” hold the door open, and strike up a conversation. But the quiet ones don’t go unnoticed.
Everyone has a story. I find as I get older, I want to know those stories. I want to get past the world’s definition of beauty and worth so I can see people as they really are. I want to really know people—strangers and friends alike—and discover what life experiences they’ve had that have shaped them into who they are and how they see the world. There is nothing that connects me more to a person than a simple truth about her life. Discovering common threads can strike a chord deep within my soul. Understanding and coming to appreciate differences will open my heart and can be mindbending.
Share with me something real about yourself. It can be as simple as a hidden talent–such as my friend Donnette’s ability to make chainmail. Or feel free to go deep and reveal something that shaped you–an experience you had, something or someone you lost, something you overcame, an event that touched your heart or opened your mind in an unexpected way.
Tell me about a time when discovering something about someone—a stranger or a friend—changed how you saw or felt about that person or expanded your perception of the world.