Strangers

I sat down in the bright purple armchair and set my tea on the low table, popped my earbuds in and started the podcast, set up the pattern on my phone and started knitting. I had a few hours to kill between appointments at two different hospitals and since I had bussed across the city, there wasn’t really enough time to go home. So I went to a nearby mall and set out to relax. (A silver lining in an annoying day.) 

I had knitted one or two rows when a lady approached. She was elderly, pushing a walker (the same one I have) and was dressed in jeggings, a ball cap and a bright orange hoodie that said “psych ward” across the front. 

She sat down in another bright purple chair to my right and asked “are you crocheting?”  I took out an earbud and answered that I was knitting. We exchanged a few remarks about knitting (she had tried it once as a child) and fell silent. 

I debated internally whether I should put my earbud back in, leave it as is with a podcast in only one ear, or pause and unplug completely.  In the end the lady won out.  And I am so glad. 

Ocean, which was her name, is an Inuit woman who moved from Nunavut to Ottawa 25 years ago to study at Algonquin and then work for the government until her retirement. She has 16 great grandchildren, several of whine she has never met because the majority of her family still lives in the North. She told me she has struggled with alcoholism for many years until recently when she fell and injured herself. She spent a while in hospital and has now been sober for one month and five days. 

I learned where her parents came from, where they moved to, what she studied in school, what she did for work, how she feels about her grandchildren and about her partner. She told me about where she lives, where she got her walker and how she gets her dental benefits. She shared that she’s excited to travel this summer to Newfoundland and Labrador. We debated the merits of plane vs train and the benefits of travelling alone sometimes. It was a long and winding conversation and it was lovely.  

One of my favourite podcasts is Strangers, in which each episode tells a different person’s story. I love listening in and following other people’s lives but I’m real life so often I’m shut off from the people around me. I try to make a conscious effort to remain open and have time for conversation and Ocean was a good reminder that every person has a story worth listening to. 

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