We were sitting in an opthalmologist’s office. We didn’t know each other; had never seen each other before. She didn’t remind me of anyone I knew; probably didn’t shop at the same stores I shopped in, and didn’t send her children to the same schools I did. She caught my eye and smiled. When I smiled back she said,
“An appointment at this office always means the sacrifice of half a day.”
“What’s the point of going through the pretense of making an appointment if they never honor time?” I commiserated.
I wasn’t expecting to be chatting with a stranger in the waiting room. I preferred discussing “real” issues that I cared about rather than having mindless, small talk. I was happy to be left alone, look at my cell phone and catch up with the day’s messages.
But my neighbor-in-waiting had other ideas about how to spend time while she waited for her eyesight to be checked, examined and improved. Her idea was to tell me her secrets. It must have been a cathartic experience, because she launched right into some forbidden topics that can be told only to a total stranger. One who doesn’t know you, who your friends are or who your family is. And someone you will never see again. I fit that description perfectly.
Within a very short time she was describing the illicit affairs of her life, the stresses therein and the naughty, guilty escapes she seeks wherever she can. And what was my reaction to these confessions?
Were they interesting? Did I care? Did I want her to continue? Was I drawn into her story? Oh, yes I was!
She had the story teller’s natural gift of keeping her listeners spellbound and fascinated. Nothing stopped her from talking, describing intimate details and intriguing me in her compelling tone. I didn’t want to tune out or interrupt.
Then, too soon, the nurse called her name and she abandoned me just at the good part, and walked into the doctor’s office. In a few minutes my name was called and I was led into a different examining room. And so, my soap opera story teller disappeared from my life as quickly as she had appeared. I have heard that people sometimes feel safer telling their most intimate secrets to a total stranger than to a trusted friend. Perhaps you’ve never had the experience of expressing your soul, your “authentic self” or revealed your secrets to someone you didn’t know.
I admit that I once had such an experience.
It happened on a flight to Florida. I was traveling alone. At that time my life seemed to be unfurling around me, and I felt troubled, depressed and isolated. Things I always assumed were true proved not to be true after all. People I once trusted turned out to be untrustworthy. My foundations were crumbling, all was lost, and I was in a state of despair.
The gentleman seated to my right started a conversation and before I knew what I was saying I told him my story. We spoke for the three hours it took to arrive at our destination; from take-off to landing. He listened and responded by offering advice based on his own experience in a similar situation.
Although we exchanged secrets, there is one thing we never exchanged: our names. I have no idea who he was and he doesn’t know me either. But Mr. Anonymous Traveler helped me that day more than anyone else in my real world could have.
I think of that day sometimes, and that kind man, and hope that his life came together as successfully as mine did.