A Stranger

I posted about this a couple years ago but a friend recently asked me to retell the story. So you old-timers might recognize this one.

Ten years ago I was going through radiation treatments for lymphoma. Every morning I drove an hour and a half to the cancer center, took off all my clothes, put on this robe, and sat in a room with others in their robes.

There was no socializing. There was little, if any, talking. Everything going on in that room was internalized. We were all head down, thoughts inward. Preparing for what we knew was coming, and how awful we were going to feel in a couple hours, and how sick we were going to be the rest of the day.

We were simply breathing. Grateful to be breathing, but able to do nothing more than take the next step right in front of us.

There was an older woman in that group. Short, steel-gray hair. She was always there before me, and when I walked in, she would lift her chin in greeting. We could manage an acknowledgement, but that was it.

Three or four years later I was in a grocery store, in the produce section, and happened to look up. And there she was. We met each other’s eyes and immediately burst into tears.

She was alive.

We hugged. We asked each other how the prognosis was going, how the healing was going. That’s when I found out she’d been in there for breast cancer.

And then we moved on to finish our shopping.

We never asked for each other’s name, or phone number, or email.

It was so random, to run into her there, of all places. That we happened to be, not just in the same town and the same store, but the same section at that exact same moment in time.

Years passed.

Two years ago I was…you guessed it…back at that same store. And there she was.

Once again, as soon as we met eyes, we were crying. We hugged. We asked those questions. Are you still free? She was. I wasn’t. I’d just finished another round of radiation and was still pretty sick. But I was able to tell her it was a precaution only and all was good. We cried some more.

We never asked for each other’s name, or phone number, or email.

She’s a complete stranger. I know nothing about who she is as a person, or what her family is like, or any of the myriad of stories we associate with those we know.

Yet I count her as a close friend.

And some day I’ll run into her again.

9 thoughts on “A Stranger

  1. Lisa,
    I know this post is a few years old so I hope you are well. I can’t begin to understand the emotions that come with a cancer diagnostic, but I try because I work at a cancer wellness centre. People come to our Centre to take part in our programs like yoga, meditation, nutritional cooking, energy therapies, etc. Some come with the distinct intention of taking their class and leaving – they don’t want to socialize and just “hang around and talk about cancer”. But inevitably, they make friends, sometimes really, really good friends. And it’s quite beautiful to see they can come together even in hard times.

    • Thank you for the job you do to help those of us when we are in that deeply internal moment. I had a weird episode two years ago but so far everything is good now.

  2. Heartbreakingly beautiful that we can connect on such a level, yet know nothing of one another – again and again. There is far more to human interaction than names, addresses, etc. It may sound strange, but this connection I feel when I look into the eyes of another soul (human or animal) and truly see them. This touches the intangible connection between us all – everything and everyone is connected. Sometimes we forget this.

  3. Thanks for revisiting the story.
    I’m finding that the folks I can meet eyes with, without knowing anything more than that we share traumatic loss, that we are on the grieving path together are the ones whose names I don’t need to know to connect fully with.
    This sums it perfectly.

  4. What a lovely connection to have to another, without needing to know the ins and outs of their life. Beautiful.

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