When Strangers Become Your People

Sometimes, graduate school is hard.

But, it’s even harder when you don’t have your people. A couple of weeks ago, Elissa wrote about diving into the graduate school dating game,  speaking eloquently about how we all long to share history and be known; essentially longing to share our lives with our people.

Recently, my dear friend and former graduate wife, Allison, recounted an experience she had while on the subway in Atlanta, an inspirational story of hope and love and what happens when strangers become your people. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of all of us on this graduate journey, who are learning what it means to place trust in people who aren’t necessarily known to us. I was reminded of my own graduate school experiences, and the people along the way who were there during the unexpected times. My heart filled with gratitude. I hope you enjoy it. – Mandy

Our-People-Come-Together

We all have our people, the tribe of folks providing a safety net of security so that we can take courageous leaps that would otherwise paralyze us in fear. These are the same faces that breathe encouragement into us when we are broken and joyously with us celebrate in our highs.

We can live life more fully because of the support of our people.

This weekend I had the opportunity of attending the Allume writer’s conference in South Carolina. On my way home, I stopped through Atlanta for a night with my sister’s family.

As I waited at the Marta station this morning to take a train to the airport, I noticed an elderly woman standing uncomfortably, hunched over, clutching her bag as if somebody were going to grab it and run. Her acute self-awareness clearly communicated this was her first and last Marta trip to the airport.

In an effort to put her at ease, I engaged in small talk about my three children. Her flight was not for another 6 hours, but she worried about this trip to the airport, a ride her children had assured her was a simple process.

People-coming-together

The direct train to the airport never arrived. I explained that we needed to hop on a different line and switch trains, but not to worry because we were going to do this together. This overwhelmed her. She did not yet trust me, but realized what we both knew…I was her best option. She had no people.

We rolled our bags onto the train to get situated. As the train jerked into gear, the next few minutes felt like slow motion. My new friend had such a death grip on her bags, she had forgotten to hold on. Her 78-year-old self went flying through the cabin. Several of us attempted to break her fall but failed. She went down…hard. She yelled in panic. Bags scattered. We all jumped to her aid.

A homeless, toothless man locked eyes with me before speaking,

“Ma’am, I may be dirty, but I’m honest. I’ll get your bags, and you help her. She don’t want me touching her.”

I saw straight into his kind heart wishing for a different conversation I knew we had no time to have.

A teenage punk previously entranced by the music on his headphones turned out to be a medic-in-training and assessed her for injuries before two construction workers lifted her to a seat.

As the homeless man gathered our bags and purses, he guarded them with great pride. A sweaty runner who had just finished a 5k offered up her water as I rubbed our shaken friend’s back.

Hips were thankfully not broken, but her spirit was. Embarrassment now trumped her trepidation over this adventure. We surrounded her with reassurance and comfort, little of which was received. The construction workers made some cute jokes to ease her tension before everybody went back to their seats.

I sat in the next row offering her enough space to recover alone, but close enough to jump to any need.

As her head leaned onto the train window, her eyes shut. I quietly prayed. When her eyes opened, tears poured down from underneath her wire-rimmed glasses falling onto the gray shawl draped across her shoulders. Her pale skin was still void of any color. Her hands shook. I understood the recovery was temporary. I asked,

“Is there anybody I can call for you?”

She responded in a whisper.

“They said this would be easy. But it’s not. Unexpected things happen that change everything. This is too hard for me.”

In that moment, my eyes filled with tears. I understood exactly how she felt. She’s right. It’s hard. All of it. So many times when it’s supposed to be easy…it isn’t.

Just before exiting the train, a businessman sensitive to her embarrassment gave her a wink.

“I didn’t see a thing, Beautiful.”

A little color reappeared in her cheeks. Each person in our group spoke to her before exiting, and with each comment her breathing deepened and confidence reestablished. But it was the homeless man at the second to last stop that got me. He looked at her and simply said, “Ma’am” and then gave her a nod.

With tremendous grace and gentleness she uttered,

“Thank you Sir for helping me with my bags today.”

And she offered him her hand. He looked at me as if for permission to accept, and I smiled. He shook her hand, a physical touch meaning more to him than she understood. As he turned to leave, he stood taller…exiting the train with a greater sense of dignity than when he arrived.

Seven people entered a train this morning from very different walks of life and in a matter of moments became a team with one purpose, to support a 78-year-old woman we had never met. We became her people, even if just for a train ride.

Sometimes our people look different than we imagine.

Sometimes they are only in our life for a train ride.

But we need them to get us through the unexpected.

Today I am grateful for my people, both the ones that support me in my daily walk and the ones God provides simply for those unexpected moments when it’s just too difficult to stand on my own.

*reprinted with permission by The House of Hendrix – please go visit!

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4 thoughts on “When Strangers Become Your People

  1. Pingback: Survival Tips: Flying with Toddlers | the graduate wife

  2. Pingback: how to survive international travel with toddlers | Professional Amateur

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