A stranger…

Last evening, I had this memory of a woman, a stranger who changed something in me during the course of a day. I wanted to write about it. It made me think – this could be a great prompt! So I invite you to write on this topic – a stranger in your life who made a difference. I would be honored if you decide to share it, either in the comments section or in your blog and leave a link. Here is mine…


We were at the waiting lounge in Frankfurt. We had just landed from our first flight, Boston to Frankfurt, and there was another waiting of about four hours before our next flight to Chennai. I was traveling alone with Anji, 18 months old at the time. Abhi was going to join us in Mumbai a week later.

Anji was playing near the window of the lounge watching the planes go by, doing her usual thing, when I saw Her. She was perhaps in her mid thirties or early forties – I have always been terrible at telling people’s age – and had a boy with her. She was sitting on one of those lounge chairs – they have a few in airports which are always taken pretty soon – where you can put our your legs and lean back. She was watching Anjali play and smiled across at me. She had an open, friendly face. I could tell she was a south-indian too, by her salwar kameez attire – and maybe she had a bindi. We exchanged greetings – her name was Soumya, and found out our destinations were the same.

Soumya was traveling with her husband and her five year old son to meet her parents and in-laws. She commented on how cute Anji was. Anji at that time liked to eat on her own and I remember her saying how amazing that was. We talked a few pleasantries, where we each lived and so on. Nothing major. Just friendly. The long afternoon wore on as I walked around, strolling Anji in her stroller – at various points for diaper changes, snacks and mostly hoping she would fall asleep. I don’t remember if she did – there were too many journeys on that big trip to India to recall the exact details.

But what I remember was when we landed in Chennai many hours later. Anji was exhausted (even adults feel half-dead after the excruciatingly long travel), it was about 2.00 at night. All our supplies of juice and milk was over and by the time I had remembered to ask the flight attendant it had been too late – they had closed everything. Everything in the airport was shut. She was hungry, tired and I was exhausted and feeling very lonely as she cried and cried and wouldn’t stop and I stood there at the baggage claim praying that my luggage would arrive soon and this would stop and feeling sort of numb.

Soumya stepped in. Like a guardian angel. She distracted Anji, offered her a snack, and got me together simply by her compassionate presence. She told me she had been in those exact shoes before on a previous travel and knew exactly what I was going through. A porter offered to find some milk in a nearby café and took our bottles. Anji started to calm down. By the time the milk came, she had dozed off.

That night, I needed someone, I needed help. Soumya was that help. She arrived at the time when I needed someone to remind me what compassion was. She connected with me as a Mom and I will never forget how it changed my perspective in that instant. Somehow everything became more manageable because I was no longer alone.

At some point we exchanged numbers, I don’t remember when. Her sister was waiting for her, and I spotted my Dad as we walked out finally with our baggage in hand. We said goodbyes. I probably may never see her again. I hope that I will though. I still smile thinking of her.

With love, S.


6 thoughts on “A stranger…

  1. I love this story, Shuba. In the last year, I just started noticing all of the “strangers” who seem to appear just when I need them. Sometimes they become friends (ie, from writing circles!), other times just a comment made by a person who seems to know just what I’m feeling or going through at that moment. Often, those strangers seem to understand me more than people I have known for years. So it makes me wonder how much of a stranger they really are!

    Keep writing your beautiful observations!

    1. ‘Often those strangers seem to understand me more than people I have known for years’. How true. I think sometimes we cut through barriers and connect with the heart through these amazing fortunate inspiring encounters. I think it reminds us of how interconnected we really are…

      Miss ya! Hope all is well with the transitions of a new place! Sending love…

  2. I remember arriving at a women’s writing group for the first time about half a year ago. I was nervous and perhaps a little more than uneasy. It was my first outing to a “new” group since recovering from an extensive treatment with ECT for major depression. Some combination of childhood trauma and my biology had turned into a particularly lethal depression which I had survived, thanks to the kindness, love and attentiveneness of my husband and friends, but I was still very fragile, still working with a therapist to “rewrite” parts of my brain, still practicing mindfulness as a way of tolerating immobilizing pain.
    The group was up a stairs, down a corridor in a room dimly lit with a variety of saggy chairs and couches covered with dark brown blankets. The instructor was leggy, vivacious and blonde and had already published several books I admired for their humor and acceptance. She was brightly welcoming. Two women sat side by side on one couch, one dressed for Vanity Fair, the other for Yankee Journal, talking as though they were long lost sisters. The woman I had walked in with opened her laptop. I sat on a chair facing the door, and there I could see the woman who was curled up in the high-backed easy chair facing me.
    She had slipped off her sandals, and her skirt and blouse draped loosely around a slight body. Black hair curved around a face with a smile so warm, so welcoming, I felt like I was the person she had been waiting for. After several weeks with the group, I had learned that that is the result of Subha’s attentive openness to people, and the delight she seems to expect the world to deliver in just a second. She had black eyes with amazing, thick lashes, warm walnut skin and graceful hands. When she read her work with a lilting Indian accent, she made clear the importance of the practice of metta — loving-kindness — to her. But I didn’t need to be told. Her way of being in that room had already drenched me in compassion, making a moment I had feared a moment when I felt surrounded by love and possibility.
    Thank you, Subha, for being a stranger who changed something in me in the course of a day!

    1. This is beautiful, thank you Tricia, for sharing this sweet wonderful moment with the magic of your heart and words. I’m touched and honored that I was at the right place that morning and present – and indeed you were the person I was waiting for that morning! I remember connecting immediately with your warmth. And then you read your writing…That pretty much cinched the deal.

      We go through life not knowing so much – the knowledge that we can change something for others…what could be more inspiring on this path!?

      With a smile, S.

  3. Six years back, I was facing a crisis in the family and was at my wits end. One day when everything came to a head, I stepped into a temple after dropping my kid off at playschool, and stood outside the sanctum of the Goddess (whose idol was decked in a beautiful yellow-saree-with-red-border), just staring at the idol, wondering if I should give up my fight. A hand tapped my shoulder. I turned to look at a 50-ish something woman, a total stranger, smiling at me as she said “don’t worry. All will be ok”. (in Tamil: “Kavalai padaathe, ellam nallapadiyaaga nadakkum”).

    I went home, and within the next few days the crisis passed in a way that I had not believed possible.

    I can never forget that woman and the fact that she was wearing a yellow-saree-with-red-border that day.

    1. What a beautiful and transformative experience, LG – to have felt like you witnessed the goddess herself comforting you in a time you needed her the most. I can imagine that having been through this, you now have a window through which you are able to feel protected, no matter what the winds that blow.

      Thank you so much for sharing this moment in your life. May our lives be touched with many such experiences of connecting…

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