top of page

And so I hugged a stranger on a beautiful autumn day

He paused to examine a strange, twisted piece of metal along the path we had just decided to take down the hill. "Hmmm" I thought, enjoying our so far solitary walking space. "I hope he either waits until we have passed to start walking again, or goes quickly now, before we reach him." Of course, he stood up exactly as we were coming alongside, and it would have been more awkward not to acknowledge each other. "Beautiful day for a walk," I said, hoping this casual statement would lead to a quick and smooth crossing of paths.

It was a crisp, blue, early afternoon and the warmth of the sun eased conversation. Where at first I hoped our paths would diverge after the initial greeting, I would not have believed I would be suggesting that we should hug a short 30 minutes later.

Of course, after we had walked a fair few kms and he had told me about his family, as well as the two most profound experiences of his life, it is probably fair to say that we weren’t strangers anymore.

He was respectable, dressed for the weather and a good walk. He and his wife had recently retired and were visiting their daughter. He walked daily and enjoyed this park (our park, I thought, as my kids and I lovingly refer to it).

"Do you have grandkids?" I innocently asked. “Well, no,” he said, his voice taking on a charged, strong quality of emotion. “My daughter has had two stillbirths.“ That was the first moment where strangers changed. A conscious moment of connection. "I am so, so sorry," I said, feeling the weight of his statement like a punch to the gut. "I have had a miscarriage myself, and I can't even begin to imagine a stillbirth, let alone two," I give of myself in reply, suddenly acutely aware of the two, beautiful babies in my stroller. These revelations seem to change the energy between us tangibly, so that we began again, on a new, closer, and unexpected wavelength.

Shortly, I knew that he had another daughter, a nurse, and a son, a filmmaker. “Interesting. I'm a nurse and my brother is a filmmaker," I said, in another shared truth. Matching his openness and the discovery of mutual context led to overlapping anecdotal starts and genuinely enjoyable conversation. Enough so that our now mutual path, set out of the park, towards a neighbourhood street, felt less awkward and more genuinely interesting.

I listened, laughed, and lived vicariously through his experience co-starring with his wife in a film directed by their son.

“Incredible, and what a gift,” earnestly comes out.

“I guess there are two experiences in my life that were that incredible." He continues. “The only thing that compares with the filming was our trip along the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain.” By this point, we have reached a natural destination and I pause the stroller outside the entrance. “Do you have a moment more?” He asks. I ignore the passers by on the sidewalk and the complaining from my kids to show I value what he is offering and would like to hear his story.

“This is just one example of things that happened all along the trail,” he starts. “Along the way, I kept seeing these yellow-painted rocks with the name Nadia written on them. It became uncanny how many times we encountered the name in various places. My mother's name was Nadia. After awhile it felt to me that she must have been with us on the trail. She had been gone a few years” He paused. "Then …" he trailed off. "It’s going to get me misty,” he said and pinched his nose bridge up by his moistening eyes. “Thank you for sharing,” I said, to dissuade any embarrassment on his part.

He continued, “Then, awhile further into the journey I came upon a rock that had a name added - on it was written, Nadia and Axle.” Absorbed, I gave him room to explain. “Axle was my father. I waited on the trail for my wife to catch up and when she saw the rock, I said to her - someone else has joined us on the trail.”

“Anyway,” he said collecting himself, "if you ever get the chance to go, it is well worth the trip. That was only one example of so many uncanny and magical experiences from the trail. One day when you have more time,” he said, gesturing to the two toddlers in the stroller, “it would definitely be worth it - especially during a time of transition.”

Feeling like I had been given a gift of experience and connection from a circumstance that otherwise would have passed without a second thought, I said genuinely, “I feel like I would like to give you a hug.” To which he embraced me not unlike a father would. “It was a pleasure meeting you,” I said, with no trace of awkwardness. “We walk this way a lot, maybe we will run into you again during your trip.” “Yes,” he said, and with a smile and wave for both kids, "It would be a pleasure." Then, already walking on, “It was lovely meeting you.”

“What did you say mommy?” Asked my three year old. “I said thank you and it was very nice meeting that nice man.” I replied walking into the library. "How lovely and completely unexpected", I thought as we headed in to look for some books, "What a beautiful day for a walk."

73 views0 comments


bottom of page