I had something strange happen to me recently. I found out that someone I met very briefly, a long time ago, in a place far away, and whom I never saw or spoke to again, died in January of this year. And surprisingly, it touched me deeply.
Three years ago, I was in Romania, only for a few days and mostly on a whim because I wanted to see Transylvania (this was while I was living in Scotland and had the proximity to go to amazing places on a whim). I had rented an adorable little cottage from an English couple who lived in a small village nestled in the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains. My time in Romania was a more unique experience, as a lot of the trip was spent in rural country, a landscape that was both naturally beautiful and pockmarked by the ruins of communism. It was a time filled with much wandering, stray dogs, gypsies, “Dracula’s” castle, pessimistic taxi drivers, and getting lost repeatedly.
The couple that rented out the cottage was older and very sweet. They had food and milk in the fridge (the milk, fresh from the cow, was poured into an old Coke bottle in the local style) and when neither I nor my travel companion could remember how to boil an egg (shamefully so), they came in, found us confused and despairing over a pot of boiling water, and reminded us how (it’s a life skill). I remember them both, but especially Peter, a short, perpetually barefoot, adorable man with a beard who invited us into their house for sherry. He and his wife Sue told us about their own travel adventures…the most fascinating of which had them following the ancient trail of the Silk Road.
Peter is the one who passed away recently. I found out because a while after my stay in their cottage, Sue added me on Facebook and she has since brought up this news there. It made me think…I do not remember all the details of my encounter with him and would probably not even remember what this man looked like exactly if Sue did not have a picture of him on her Facebook. But I remember how it felt, sitting in his house across from him with a tiny sherry glass in my hand. I remember liking him instantly. I remember looking down and seeing his bare feet and noticing he had long toenails. I remember the energy he gave off, maybe even the sound of his voice.
These are some of the people we meet while traveling…in brief and magical moments...sometimes without a single word, sometimes with engrossing hours of conversation….often without ever knowing anything about them except what we see in that small amount of time. These are the ones you don’t have pictures with, the ones whose names you probably don’t recall. Strangers etched into our memory. People we will probably never see or talk to ever again. These kinds of fleeting encounters have been some of the most rewarding moments in my travel, and I think perhaps, for many other travelers as well. And this is one quality that touches me deeply about travel and makes it so special and enchanting.
It may be hard to describe to people who have not traveled or who have not yet found the worth in talking to strangers and connecting with a person for a quick instant, just for the sake of connecting with them. I do believe meeting people like this can occur in one’s own community, absolutely. But when you are thrust out into the world, in the middle of culture you aren’t a part of, surrounded by a language you don’t understand, these chance meetings become even more meaningful and incredible. In an age where we have access to a wide array of information about almost everyone we know (and many we don’t), treasuring the little, insignificant details and being content to know someone only as they are right in front of you, in the present, can be profound.
So please, when you travel…and even when you don’t….talk to strangers. Trust those who reach out to you in kindness. Share a part of yourself, through words or otherwise, and treasure what they share with you. This may be one of the truest beauties of the journey.