“A wonderful fact to reflect upon, that every human creature is constituted to be that profound secret and mystery to every other.”- Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
Whilst reading a Charles Dickens classic I was profoundly touched by these words. Through traveling and visiting new places I’ve met some wonderful people and had some great conversations with complete strangers; people who until I bravely took the plunge and introduced myself to were indeed a “profound secret and mystery.” It’s one thing to people watch from a café or bar and imagine the lives which they lead in but it’s another thing entirely to actually delve into the unknown and discover the reality. It’s true that as human beings we instinctively have a fear of the unknown. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t know how to be vigilant when visiting somewhere new, to keep our wits about us and to exercise caution. However, sometimes that same fear can hold us back and prevent us from meeting new people or opening ourselves up to new experiences.
In Zaragoza I have visited an Irish Pub called Flagherty’s a few times and each time I have gone there in the hope of meeting some fellow Irish people. In order to do this however I had to change my mindset and stop viewing myself as “that loner girl who’s drinking a Guinness at the bar by herself” to “that girl who has the confidence to sit at a bar by herself.”
Ironically the first time I went there I met a lovely Spanish woman and ending up chatting to her at length about Federico Garcia Lorca (a Spanish poet and playwright I studied at Uni) his works, the themes in his plays and Spanish culture in general. I can’t remember how the conversation started (as is often the case in such brief encounters) but I returned home feeling that rush of joy which only happens on occasions when you realise how lucky you are to be alive and human. It wasn’t just because I’d unexpectedly discovered someone with common interests but because I had reached out to a stranger and thus realised that the world is full of kindred spirits; I just haven’t met them yet.
On another occasion I met an American and an Irish man (finally) who were staying in Zaragoza for a few days because they worked for Emirates airlines. We got chatting because I assisted in ordering the American a rum and coke (ron y coca cola) and the Irish man jokingly chastised me for having a Guinness claiming it was a sin to drink it in any other city than Dublin. I enjoyed hearing about their travels but also giving them some suggestions about where to visit in Zaragoza and how to make the most of their time here. It felt good to be somewhat of an authority on a city I previously hadn’t even heard of (Google maps is my salvation) and in some ways it seemed as though things had come full circle- My time here is coming to an end but theirs is just beginning. Maybe this is what fate is; a series of chance encounters that although we don’t know it, somehow fit perfectly into the circle of life and are meant to be.
For this post I chose to include a black and white photo of some friends and I because it reminded me of the 1946 film “Brief encounter” as well as the role fate plays when we make new acquaintances. There is a saying that “it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” and the same I believe can be applied to any casual and brief encounters with a stranger be it romantic or otherwise. Surely it’s better to have had an enthralling and eye opening conversation with someone and then never see them again than to have just sat beside them in silence?
My favourite part of the film “Brief Encounter” is when Alec laments upon the fact that he can’t be with Laura. He says “Forgive me…for everything, for meeting you in the first place, for taking a piece of grit out of your eye.” I think he got it wrong though. Instead of apologising to Laura he should have been thanking her. If they’d never met in the first place they would never have created so many wonderful memories and their meeting was clearly destined to be. It’s crazy to imagine that something so insignificant as a piece of grit could completely change the course of our lives. In the same way if I’d ticked a different box on my uni application from I would be living a completely different life and all of my current friends would be anonymous strangers…..strangers just waiting to be discovered in an Irish bar somewhere.
I would encourage anyone to pursue their own brief encounters. You never know what you could learn about another person, the world or even yourself. After all the truth is often stranger than fiction.