a world

Strangers On A Train: Make Your Journeys Worthwhile.

“We’re on our way to bible study,” said my friend. He likes to make up stories, but let’s get real, who doesn’t?

It was 10:00 pm, and we were on the Circle Line, retracing our steps into Central London after hopping the wrong train. Across from us sat a young couple — friendly, talkative, and maybe a touch too quick to believe anything. They were sipping from a water bottle of vodka and Fanta, on their way to a night out raving.

Thus began my Saturday this past October. My friend alighted at King’s Cross Station to head home, and I followed these strangers (soon to be friends) to Fabric, one of London’s most famous House clubs.

We would meet another stranger on our way out of the Tube, and together walk to the venue. We would spend the next four or five hours dancing to some of the best dance music I’d heard in a year, adding new strangers (new friends) to our group as we went, and they would become, over the course of the night, no longer strangers.

And all because we had all looked up across the aisle of a Circle Line train and said hello.

A week prior, I had gone to meet my coworker in Oxford for the first time. On the trip home, the train was rush-hour packed — standing room only. After a series of unexpected events, I found myself squished next to a fellow American; as foreigners are wont to do, we struck up a conversation, found it fascinating, and continued it over a particularly delicious dinner in Notting Hill.

And all because I had asked (in my unmistakably American accent), “Is this the train to London?”

When did we grow afraid of strangers? When did the popular wisdom for travelers shift from Trust the road and the good Samaritans who walk it to Trust no one? When did two strangers — or four strangers — talking on the train become the exception, rather than the rule?

I have an advantage, in that nothing about my thin, five-foot-five frame and (so they tell me) charming smile inspires fear or mistrust. There are fewer barriers for me to cross to arrive at the human beings inside their protective circles.

Some of my most entertaining nights out, fascinating conversations and closest connections have occurred simply because I looked up and said hello. Though I occasionally forget and succumb to the comfortable bubble of my own world, I try to make a rule of talking to strangers — I have yet to regret it.

And then, when you think about it, aren’t we all just strangers on a train?

Busy watching for our station, looking out of the window, or within, or anywhere but around us, we don’t realize that the train is it. There are no stations, no stops, and for all we know, no destination.

Our fellow passengers? We’re stuck with them — better hope they don’t smell — and we can make of that a party or a burden. The Buddhists will tell you the train is an illusion; the Jews will tell you it’s the only thing that’s real. One thing I know for certain: it’s what we make of the ride that counts.

So we can either look up and say hello, and make the journey worthwhile, or we can keep staring at our shoes, waiting for the conductor to call our stop.

Try saying hello to a stranger today and see what happens. Maybe they’ll tell you their life story. Maybe they won’t respond. Maybe that stranger will change your life — or your day, or your next 10 minutes. But no matter what, isn’t it more interesting than your toes?

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Toby IsraelToby Israel is an incorrigible vagabond. She travels in search of dragons, mermaids, adventures and searches… and cross-cultural understanding. Avid dancer, yogi, cook and lover of words, she is inspired by movement and poetry, good food and new things. She studied Anthropology at Middlebury College, and now works as an editor at elephant journal. She also continues to find her way in the world as a 21st century nomad, and you can share her journey at Next Stop World, Twitter and Facebook.

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