strange little wonderful

When I was 21, I took my backpack and went to Europe. I was alone and trying to get comfortable with that feeling of being myself with total strangers. I tried in Brussels and wound up eating mussels with my mom and stepfather who happened to be in town. I tried in Munich while hoisting a stein of amazing beer at Oktoberfest with about a million other people. I tried in Salzburg while humming Doe-A-Deer as I skipped down the street with my hostel-mate.

The more I tried, the stranger I felt.

And I tried again in Vienna at the Wiener Staatsoper, grabbing a front row in the cheap standing area for an opera.  

At intermission, a fellow American tapped me on the shoulder and asked me how I was enjoying the show. She’d lived in Vienna for years and asked me to coffee afterwards. Before we ventured from the opera house, she offered to show me the best view in town and whisked me up the stairs to the balcony of the historic building. Together we looked out over the city, all lit up at night, twinkling and vast and for the first time in weeks, I wasn’t trying to be comfortable, I just was. 

We skipped coffee and, instead, ventured on a night walking tour of the beautiful city. We talked and talked and shared the stories of our lives. Mine was pretty short at that point… and then we parted with just her recommendation that I return to the opera tomorrow night. When I asked why, she said, “You’ll know when you hear it.” And, she was right. The Marriage of Figaro was on stage and my name was sung in opera all through the night.

It was a gift.

I was meant to be there that night; I offered to show some fellow standing strangers the amazing view and wound up traveling with two of them for months afterwards. They are dear friends to this day.

And, so I didn’t flinch the other night in Bombay when a stranger approached me on famous Chowpaty Beach amidst the crowd. He commented that I was brave to be eating bhel puri from the streetfood stall. Toothless and rocking an Alaska t-shirt, Madhu offered to show me around the beach scene and reminisced about his childhood days there and his daughter’s childhood days there. He asked about my family. We decided to walk together along Marine Drive after we’d watched the sun go down over the city.  Madhu is a retired teacher, a psychology enthusiast, a world-traveler, a retired Indian Navy man, a husband, a father, a walking enthusiast and a good, old soul.  He challenged me with ethical riddles as we walked, admiring the sea as we pondered choices and why we choose what we choose. 

When we got to the end of the 3 mile walk, Madhu offered to show me the best view in town. He took me into the Trident Hotel, a fancy, swanky type place and we paused for a bit in the lobby before venturing up to the very top floor where the lights were out. We each leaned up against the glass and peered out at the amazing view of the “queen’s necklace,” the lit-up waterfront that curves around like a sparkling jewel. We were silent and it was a gift.

Madhu told stories with great details just like my dad. He was born exactly one month to the day before my mom. I know his favorite places in the world and his deepest hopes for his daughter. He knows who I have left behind in coming here. And after lots of questions, he understands why I am here and what I believe about the goodness of people.

I told Madhu on the elevator heading back down about my night in Vienna. He remarked on how vivid the memory still is for me these 17 years later. I told him that I would always remember this, too.  

The moment a stranger becomes a friend is far too incredible a gift to forget.

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12 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. nickadillo
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 12:11:12

    Beautiful!! When I grow up I want to be like you!! xo

    Reply

  2. Stephanie
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 12:32:30

    Love your writing! Keep it coming! xo

    Reply

  3. Becky Earl
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 15:32:27

    You have so many of these beautiful gifts because you, too, are a giver by being open to receiving others as you find them. You make me so very proud!

    Reply

  4. liza sue
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 18:08:08

    I love you. What a gift you are to those you touch…you are my yoda

    Reply

  5. Jazzy
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 21:46:54

    lovely. just lovely.

    Reply

  6. Madeline
    Oct 07, 2013 @ 23:27:00

    Beautiful Susannah. 🙂

    >

    Reply

  7. Katy Childs
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 01:46:18

    Susannah!!!!
    That was the best happy accident ever and I am so glad we met you that night in Vienna! I think about you so much and am so happy to see you made it to India, as I know how much you wanted to go. I miss you lots!
    Even with life getting in the way of staying in touch you are always in my heart. I love reading about your travels and remembering how wonderful ours were and how much we gained by being open to new people.
    Xoxoxo
    Katy

    Reply

  8. De Howard
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 15:02:16

    Susannah, you make me see the world through wonderful, different eyes. You are a wonder. What great experiences you have had.
    Love, De

    Reply

  9. Molly McGlamery-Pickens
    Oct 08, 2013 @ 19:26:25

    Susannah….you are brave!! What a neat experience.

    Reply

  10. Kaye
    Oct 09, 2013 @ 08:17:08

    Susannah, this is so beautifully written. Now I know the magical story of the stranger you met in Bombay and the “meaning of life” talk you had with him as you wandered the beach that weekend night. I love thaty ou are so receptive to everything and everyone you encounter on this new journey of life. Keep these blog posts coming!

    Reply

  11. janette Harris-Eubanks
    Oct 20, 2013 @ 16:32:19

    Susannah…What a beautiful & amazing journey you have embarked upon but it is only fitting for the amazing & gracious person you are.. I am in awe…Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences & i look forward to reading more, Take care of yourself….Janette Harris-Eubanks:)

    Reply

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