The Wisdom of Strangers

The Wisdom of Strangers September 17, 2018

Everywhere I go, I meet people who’ve traveled on. Like the young man who grew up outside of Dubai. He now drives a taxi in Seattle and tells me that all roads lead to each other. And the mother of three whose father raised cattle in Nebraska. She now owns an apartment building in Austin. She tells me that when she closes her eyes, the openness of all those acres returns to her. Wherever I go, I listen to their stories until the warmth of being together makes us take off our histories like long winter coats. Then our eyes begin to sigh, and we admit we don’t know where we’re going, but we love being on the way.

There was the lacrosse coach from Wisconsin who told me that Hemingway said that nobility isn’t being superior to others but being superior to your former self. I would say this differently. I’ve found nobility to be a matter of staying true to the process of erosion that wears away what no longer works. Ultimately, nobility is the moment of grace, however fleeting, when nothing remains between our soul and the rest of life. Everyone longs for this exquisite rawness, though we fear being this naked. Yet after the shock of being so vulnerable, we’re empowered by our sensitivity to be of some use. And like the statue of a dog I saw on the Charles Bridge in Prague—that everyone touches as they cross—we shine where we’ve been touched over the years.

When I listen long enough, everyone starts to reveal their nobility, which has less to do with being superior and more to do with offering the bareness of our being to anyone who needs something solid to lean on.


A Question to Walk With: Tell the story of a time when you learned something from a stranger.

This excerpt is from my book, Things That Join the Sea and the Sky: Field Notes on Living.


*Photo credit: Tonya Kumpula

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