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    When crossing the street in New York City, I feel much safer surrounded by a band of strangers. When we get to the other side of the street, we pedestrians will separate and go our own way, Chances are, that I will never see any of these people again. But, for a moment, their presence, amidst the traffic, was comforting.

    My son, Josh lived in New York for a few years, and he cautioned me not to speak to strangers. He said, “Don’t even make eye-contact with them.” There was an article in the New York Times about a man who died while riding the subway. He rode for 45 minutes before anyone noticed. That involved no friendly words and no eye contact.

    Strangers on airplanes have often shared secrets and life stories with me—even when I have an open book in my lap. They know they are safe, because chances are that they will never see me again. They know that they don’t have to pretend, and can be exactly who they are.
    The thing is, that a person is a stranger, because you don’t know him yet, but once introduced you really aren’t strangers anymore.

    My mother-in-law had a friend who was waiting for her plane in the Chicago O’Hare Airport. She began to chat with a lovely young woman sitting next to her. Their plane had been delayed, so they were able to talk for some time. My mother-in-law’s friend really took a liking to this personable young woman. So, she said, “My son lives in Chicago. Would you mind if I gave him your name and phone number?” The young woman said that it would be okay with her. A year later, this lovely stranger became her daughter-in-law.

    Parents will caution, “Don’t open the door to strangers.” That is good advice, but nowadays the internet indiscriminately invites all kinds of strangers into our homes.

    My Aunt Ruth spoke to everyone. No one was a stranger in her life. One Sunday morning she took a walk in her neighborhood and noticed a  a very large, rather homely woman at the bus stop. The woman was  dressed for church. Aunt Ruth said, “You look so nice.”  At that, the big woman, with tears in her eyes,  gave Aunt Ruth a bone-crushing hug and replied, “Thank you! I have had a very bad week, and you made my day!”

    At the moment when bad news turns our world upside down, we are all strangers in a strange land, and a smile or kind word from another person can be life affirming.

    I like familiar strangers such as the people who work in all of the stores I frequent. I don’t know their names, but we recognize each other and exchange pleasantries. Sometimes, that is enough to turn a ho-hum day into something memorable.

    One Monday afternoon, I went to a really early bird matinee. I was the only person in the theatre. The lights were dimming when a woman and her young daughter entered the theatre. I said, “Sorry, this is a private showing,” and they turned around and started to leave the theatre. Then they stopped, turned around again and we all burst out laughing.

    I like making people laugh—even strangers.

    One evening, five friends and I were having dinner in a restaurant. We talked and laughed and had a really good time. When we left the restaurant, everyone went to their own cars. My friend, Paula and I were headed to her car when another car, filled with strangers, pulled up next to us. A woman pulled down her window and said, “We were at the same restaurant and noticed that all of you were having such a good time. Are you related?” I poked Paula and said, “Yes, She and I are sisters.”  “Are you also related to the others?” asked the woman.  “Yes,” I said, “We are all distant cousins.” She drove off, so pleased to learn that we were one big happy family.

    So, where’s the harm? For a moment, we weren’t strangers, and the world was a much better place.

    Esther Blumenfeld

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