Doing the assignment meant I’d have to really look at a person who I didn’t know. Most likely I’d first need to ask permission to take a photograph. Who knows what else would take place after that, as I couldn’t simply snap a dozen shots and then disappear without saying thank you. And in the process of thanking a stranger anything could happen. The scary thing about strangers isn’t so much that you don’t know them, but rather, that you don’t know what they’re capable of or how they might react to you.
My world is full of strangers. The “friends” on Facebook, who respond to my posts and sometimes tell me what I wrote touched them, are strangers. In the hospital, during my daughter’s cancer, we constantly put ourselves in the hands of strangers. They CAT-scanned and radiated Marika inside out, took her vitals in the middle of the night. They came by with docile dogs, massaged her, showed me the secret broom closet where I could take a shower…. Complete strangers crocheted blankets for us.
My mother used to tell me, Don’t talk to strangers. And here I am, volunteering at Hospicare, making quarterly phone calls to check in with the recently bereaved. People I rarely get to meet. The first call is always harrowing. Until I find this new person is as shy, or as scared, or as dazed by the challenges of being a living human, as I am.
Apprehensive, but determined to do the photo assignment, I stood at the entrance to Wegmans and, from a distance, snapped shoppers coming and going. Finally I got the nerve to get closer, and asked one of two guys moving long trains of carts, D’you mind if I take your picture? He had red hair and looked safe in the camera’s viewfinder. But suddenly there was a dark blast. The other guy had his hand up like he was going to slap me. He growled, Wegmans employees don’t get photographed. I whimpered, Sorry, and slinked off to my car and drove to a nearby tiny storefront where I found a perfect stranger. She stood still smiling sweetly as I clicked the camera, only twice, and promised I’d drop off a print if it came out well.
How did a stranger surprise you? What have you done for a stranger?