Learning to Embrace Strangers is One of Marriage’s Best Lessons

Man drinking coffee

Sometimes the person who needs you the most is the one you haven’t met yet. (Photo by Neil Moralee, Flickr)

When you’re married for nineteen years, you tend to learn a thing or two from your spouse. Anyone who knows us will readily tell you that Heather is the demonstrative one in our relationship. She’s widely known for just grabbing people and giving them a hug, even if they’re a complete stranger. Although I know this now, I didn’t always, and the concept of doing this in public used to unsettle me. I’ll give you an example.

Soon after Heather and I got engaged we drove to a wholesale jeweler in downtown Cincinnati to have our rings designed. Since we’d arrived early, we decided to have lunch in the deli downstairs.

As we were stood in line, Heather placed her hand on my arm and said, “I’ll be right back.” I watched as she made her way over to an older gentleman who was sitting alone, looking somber, picking at his food without much enthusiasm. Heather talked to him for some time, patting his hand, until she finally gave him a hug and then came and found me at our own table.

I looked up at her and said, “So who was that?” I figured it was someone she knew through her job at the library, maybe a former colleague or a patron she knew well. But her response startled me.

“I don’t know. I just met him.”

My jaw dropped. “You spent all that time talking to a stranger? What possessed you?”

“I just saw him, and he looked so sad, I had to say something.” It turns out the man’s wife of sixty-plus years had recently died and the restaurant was one of their favorites. It was the first time he’d been there since her death, and that was why he looked so bereft. Although I thought it was an incredibly kind gesture on Heather’s part, I still was a bit surprised by her actions.

But then, just before the man left the restaurant, he came up and thanked Heather for chatting with him. He told her it made his day, and her kindness was just what he needed at that moment.

Since that time, her unexpected absences have become normal to me. When I see her talk to a stranger, I no longer worry. She has a sixth sense for when people need to chat, and almost always they tend to open up to her and share their secrets, and usually, she leaves them with a smile, or at least feeling a little better than they did to begin with.

For as long as we’ve been married, she’s always been the more outgoing of the two of us, but I’m glad to say that I’ve picked up on some of her traits in this regard. Being aware and conscious of people’s feelings, and being able to offer them just a bit of solace during a difficult time, is a precious gift, and I’m so happy I’ve learned to do that to some degree, although I know I’ll never quite embrace the idea as readily as she has.

Still, I’m glad to know there are other people who do the same thing for others, folks like columnist Suzanne Beecher, who inspired this post. I think it is important that we all keep writing and sharing these stories. They always make us smile, and feel a bit inspired, and somehow strangely familiar.

About Jathan Fink
Jathan is a journalist, philanthropist, and entrepreneur. He is also a travel junkie, foodie and jazz aficionado. A California native, he resides in Texas.

2 Responses to Learning to Embrace Strangers is One of Marriage’s Best Lessons

  1. Debby Carrico says:

    I miss Heather’s hugs too!!!! She is the genuine ‘article’. Love and peace, Debby

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