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.


  1. Strollerblader

    November 29, 2012

    My school sent me to a leadership conference out of the blue when I was going into my junior year of high school; I was not in student council like everyone else was. But it was a pivotal event in my life that has shaped the last 25 years.

    I have been a ward organist for the past 12+ years. It all started when one of the other young women got up and accompanied us on a song for opening exercises in YW one Sunday. I had no idea that she could play at all. I thought, “If Shannon can plsy that song, then so can I!”

    The roommate I wanted to kill in her sleep soon became one of my best friends.

    The 21 year old Beehive counselor when I was a 19 year old Beehive advisor was someone I wanted to get to know more than I did that one summer I spent at home. About 6 years ago, we got to serve in YW together again and have been best friends ever since.

    I love, love to ask questions of people and get to know what makes them tick.

  2. coni

    November 29, 2012

    [sorry it turned out so longish!]

    Many visiting teaching partners ago I was paired with Lynette and excited because we seemed to have a lot in common and, being new to area, I was anxious and eager to make a new friend. We were both just regular women enjoying young motherhood and not as much into making a fashion statement as we were into comfort and simplicity. I liked her and my time in this partnership was satisfying. We both had discovered a wonderful friendship. But sadly, visiting teaching partnerships don’t last forever and so we were eventually given different assignments.

    On one of my occasional stops by her home to say hello, I noticed a chart on her fridge, a graph, with dots and numbers. She’d begun a running program and in only a few weeks’ time had lost 10 pounds and felt great! And she looked good! Fast forward a bit, maybe six months and as the area had grown she was divided out of the ward. I didn’t see her much anymore. One Sunday while standing out in the foyer I glanced into the chapel and scanned the congregation looking for her. I looked once then twice and finally spotted her. What?? Who was this woman I saw? She was not the Lynette I had known only a few months ago. The transformation was amazing. She was absolutely stunning. Not that she wasn’t beautiful before, but this woman was so completely different! No longer did she wear a simple “regular” dress … there she was in a gorgeous regal purple outfit! Her makeup and her hair were perfect, and exquisitely dramatic! But the real stunner was the hat! She wore a magnificent pill box hat (Is that what they’re called?!) with a black netting pulled down over her eyes! Are you picturing it? Yes, she looked amazing!

    I smiled and mentally shook my head at myself. And smiled again and again for days thinking about her transformation – and about my epiphany. When we met we became quick friends. She was regular like me and I believe this first assessment made it easier to find commonalities that linked us. I was comfortable with her because she was “like” me. What if I were meeting her right now, for the first time? What would I think of her? Would I judge her? Would I decide without even knowing her that we’d never find anything in common? How comfortable would I be “hanging out” with a woman as stunning as the one I saw in the chapel? Not happy thoughts but they did entertain (Yes, my flaws are some of my best sources of entertainment!) and humble me.

    Um, no! No, no, no. I would have judged it impossible to find any common link with a woman who looked like that. She was what she wore. I knew that to me, she wouldn’t have been that warm regular woman I knew her to be. You wouldn’t have found me even wanting to hang out with someone “like that.” You wouldn’t have found me attempting a friendship – with a purple dress and a fancy black hat with netting.

    The lesson pretty much goes without saying. I’ve never thought myself as judgmental, but this proved me wrong. Whether or not we make those harsh mental judgments that put people down and below us or the seemingly harmless ones that educate and entertain us – judgments still separate us from a perfectly fine and wonderful human being (and their story!) and who could actually become our best confidant and friend.

  3. Cypher

    November 29, 2012

    Outward me: shockingly short hair, little make-up, often wear the same clothes a couple days in a row, always smiling, always positive, well-behaved kids, Primary president.

    My “hidden” story: I looooong to move overseas, I’m fairly certain my husband is gay, I laugh out loud at Phineas & Ferb, I was voted “Best Toes” by my sorority.

  4. robin marie

    November 29, 2012

    i learned a long time ago that we can be pretty deceiving with how we present ourselves to others. since kindergarten my report cards always mentioned how cheerful and happy i was.

    my friends and teachers never would have guess what i was dealing with at home: witnessing drug abuse and physical abuse, witnessing severe debilitating depression, surviving verbal abuse, growing up much too quickly and being a kind of mother to my younger siblings, laying in bed at night listening to the constant fights which made me sick to my stomach, not expecting anything for christmas or birthdays because my dad was usually out of work, donating my babysitting money so that santa could at least visit my siblings, calling 9-1-1, moving almost every two years (usually because we were evicted), starting all over at new schools and in new wards.

    i don’t write about that part of my life on my blog, at least not specifically. lots of times it is behind the meaning of what i am discussing but people always assume i’m referring to my fertility struggles. but even today it all weighs pretty heavily on me. i mourn the family i didn’t have and i mourn the dysfunctional family i did have that is now even more fractured.

    my friend recently told me we shouldn’t compare our private lives to other peoples public lives. i think that is so true. you have no idea what everyone around you is battling. you may be surprised, even the kids who are super cheerful all the time may have the biggest demons at home.

  5. Jendoop

    November 29, 2012

    I’m like this too, I love to learn about people and wish I had a little more moxie to ask strangers about themselves. What really interests me is the story line of people’s lives, how they got from one place to another, or if they are in the same place they were born what happened in between. People are fascinating and everyone has something to teach.

    Something about me: The most important things in my life are invisible. Love for my children and husband, my testimony, my dedication to psychology/social work, my education, writing, reading – all this mental work I do only to have empty hands at the end of the day. The guilt I feel over it steals some of my joy, but not enough to make me stop. So like that woman in the brown hoodie, if you looked at me you wouldn’t know the most important things about me.

  6. Jessie

    November 29, 2012

    I’m pretty open about the fact that my ex-husband is gay, because that’s an important part of my story and because I know there are other people in the same situation who are dealing with the same issue and they might not have any idea that other people are out there.

    I used to teach first-year English at a local college and one of the assignments I gave my students was to write an essay about a ‘significant event’ in their lives. I was always surprised by the things I learned about them–some of which I suspected and some I didn’t.

  7. A

    November 29, 2012

    This summer a new family moved into my ward–the wife was beautiful, intimidating, and seemed to have everything I’ve been praying for for years. I reached out to her through my calling in the ward (as I wouldn’t have been brave enough to do so on my own) and the next week she asked for my help dealing with her own private personal tragedy that I never would have expected. We’ve since become closer and I have so much respect for her–no more jealousy.

    We all have our hidden sorrows; I tend to assume that each person I meet is dealing with something tragic in his or her life and I’m usually right.

  8. bth

    November 29, 2012

    I was just thinking about this on my way home form work today. I am a substitute teacher and because of the nature of the job, I breeze in and out of peoples lives sometimes never seeing them again. When I teach the DD kids (special ed.) I interact with lots of other teachers–there are many who are employed to help our most precious ones. Today the women I met were just great people who I now know a little bit about, but I know we won’t be fast friends because I will only see them again when the DD teacher is sick again, if I am the sub who is called that day. On the way home I was trying to decide if it was a good thing of bad thing to make these connections and become (even just a bit) invested in their stories even if my contact with them is temporary. I just don’t know!

  9. dalene

    November 30, 2012

    Strollerblader – Some of my favorite friends are people I wanted to kill in their sleep or even fully conscious until I glimpsed a piece of their respective hearts and they became dear to me.

    Coni – You are so right. Thank you for sharing your epiphany. I wonder how many friendships we cheat ourselves out of because we let appearances get in the way of people who, no matter what they are on the outside, are truly, in fact, “regular,” like us.

    Cypher – I don’t know you, but I love you. Thank you for your candor. I hope that someday, even if you don’t get to live overseas, you at least get to visit one of those places of which you dream.

    Robin Marie – I am sorry for your pain, but so grateful for the point you make. I have recently been reminded of the sometimes stark contrasts between private lives and perceived public lives and what might really lie behind someone else’s good cheer. Thank you for reminding me again.

    Jendoop – “if you looked at me you wouldn’t know the most important things about me.” So true about so many people we pass by–or even people we know. Also, I hope the people in your life appreciate the importance of your “mental work.”

    Jessie – I have always appreciated your candor about your situation for that very reason. Keeping the truths of our lives to ourselves isolates not only ourselves, but also perpetuates the isolation of those in similar situations who feel they are the only ones. Thank you.

    A – I am often grateful for callings that get me out of my comfort zone and let me see or connect with people I may not have otherwise. You remind me of some of the lyrics of one of my favorite hymns:
    In the quiet heart is hidden
    Sorrow that the eye can’t see.
    Who am I to judge another?
    Lord, I would follow thee.

    bth – I suspect that the real connections you make with these people are a good thing to these people. It’s humbling to consider the impact of caring and kindness, even from someone whose paths cross ours only temporarily.

  10. Georgia

    November 30, 2012

    Dalene, this is a lovely post. As I read, I kept thinking, “Me too!”

    Something real about me: I recently crushed a meth pipe so it could never be used again. It wasn’t my pipe.

  11. Jeannie

    November 30, 2012

    I made great friends with an ex-heroin addict who happened to be our RS president…..loved her because of, not in spite of……

  12. Melody

    December 1, 2012

    This is beautiful.

    The concept of “Story” has been nesting in my soul for the past several weeks. . . something about my place in the world of story. Not sure where or what that means. . . only that I belong in that world and it belongs in me.

    Thanks for posting, as always. I love your writing.

  13. Kalli

    December 2, 2012

    I can swear like a sailor.

    But that’s hardly shocking I imagine…

Comments are closed.