Strangers, space and stories (or, how I finally made some room)

Sometimes life places people in your path at exactly the right moment, in exactly the right place. A stranger who wants to talk on a plane, or a stranger who’s okay with silence. Sometimes the universe is kind that way. We all know that sometimes that’s not the way it goes, and we deal with those days too.

I was at the market a few weeks ago, picking up some gratitude gifts for the people who would be putting us up on our road trip. I picked up a Jamaican meat patty downstairs, made short work of it, and headed upstairs to say hello to a friend whose art has found more than one home in my house. En route, I passed a man I have known, but not known, since we were kids. 13, to be exact, although he lied about his age way back when. I’ve had pictures of that 13 year old in an album for – well, since I was 13. It never really made sense to me that we somehow made an unspoken agreement that we didn’t know each other. When I moved here, and our paths crossed over the years, and they have often crossed, we never spoke about having met each other. I thought he had forgotten. It was a Grade 8 class trip, and there were many people there. Easy to get lost in the shuffle of memory files.

Well, for whatever reason, I stopped in my tracks this particular Saturday morning, and backtracked. Decided I needed another beef patty. Called him by name, tentatively. Put out a bridge. And in that moment, in a flurry of handshakes, hugs, I’m sorries, and laughter, he crossed the bridge, and we both gained a friend.

Why did it take almost 30 years? How many other misconceptions have hindered relationships? How many of us walk around hogtied by stories we tell ourselves, or that others have told us?

We went for a walk in the woods yesterday, one of those transformative, energizing walks in the woods that creates all sorts of space in one’s head. I’ve been really trying to find my hook for writing for the past couple of weeks and it hasn’t come, until one of many moments that stopped me in my tracks during our walk. I was telling him a story from my past during our walk. A story about regret, a story that still makes me feel shame, a story about treating a stranger poorly. My new friend stopped me. Said ‘Hey. I don’t want you to tell that story again. You don’t need to. It can stay here. And that’s okay.’

Whew. Well, let’s take that lesson and splash it all over my life, shall we? There are so many stories that don’t need to be told again. Stories that don’t make anything richer with their telling, stories that don’t do anything but bring pain up fresh again. Some stories just need to be put away.

And then he did this, after a good feed of leftover Indian food:

Everything in its place.

Everything in its place.

And there it was. Space created. Sure. It’s a napkin and a jewelry bag, probably with a bit of curry on it somewhere. But it was a powerful image. Put those stories in here, he said. That small little space is where they can live. You, though. You live out here. Look at all that room.

Yeah. I think that’s where I’ll live.