You’ll never know who will have a significant influence in your life or your way of thinking. It could be the homeless man that lives in a box down the street, or orphans from a completely different continent. In this article, people share their encounters with strangers that stuck with them forever.
[Source can be found at the end of the article]
He came into the funeral home, signed the guest book, and took a seat in the very back row. I noticed him because he didn’t come up to greet the family like so many others did. And he looked out of place. Everyone else was in traditional funeral attire, the dark somber colors and all that, but he was wearing a red t-shirt, jeans and a jacket that had seen better days.
And he looked so sad. He seemed like he was really hurting.
After the funeral, he stood quietly in the back and watched other people leave. I went to him right before we got in the limos to leave and asked him how he knew my grandfather.
“He let me get in his truck one day when it was really cold so I could warm up. And then he started bringing me coffee. And after a while we were really good friends. I miss him so much.”
This guy was the real deal. He knew my name, knew the names of all my family, told me some stories that only my grandfather could have known, and it soon became very clear that they had been friends for a long while.
Then he said, “I want to go to the cemetery but I don’t have a car.”
Of course he rode in the limo with my grandmother. I’m sure they had quite the conversation.
But after we all went back for the light lunch, he slipped away. I never got his last name. I had no idea where he was staying. I went into town so many times looking for him, but never found him. It’s been 20 years now, but I still look for him when I go back home. I wish I could buy him a cup of coffee.
Pulled up at some lights once and glanced into the car next to me. There was a guy tucking into a massive cheeseburger with a look of pure desire on his face. I was late home and very hungry and he caught me watching him, he just grinned and offered it towards me. It wasnt a real offer, we were 2 car windows apart but it makes me think about how were all just humans and in this together.
I got pulled over driving under the influence. I was 24 and the officer had me on an DUI and open container. Instead of arresting me he talked to me about alcoholism and seeking treatment. He let me know I had other options and that “I was too young for this kind of trouble.” It really got me thinking. It was the major catalyst that got me to check out AA (I knew I had a problem I just didn’t know what to do.) Now I have 5 years of sobriety. I wish I could thank him and let him know cutting a dumb kid a little slack turned my life around completely.
A homeless guy in New Orleans once bought ME a cheeseburger at a Wendy’s because I “looked sad.” I actually was sad; my father had just recently died. He didn’t even ask for money, he just bought me a burger and told me everything was going to be okay. That moment taught me that everyone has good and evil in them, and the good can come from any random person at any random time, so be ready for it.
My wife dropped her wedding ring in the Pacific Ocean while on our honeymoon (we were snorkeling.) Water was ~18 feet deep in that area and there was reef around. No idea how, but our tour guide managed to find it on the bottom of the ocean floor after a few dives and skimming the bottom with his hand. I gave him all the money I had in my wallet as a tip.
My wife would have been pretty devastated if not for Tao.
I hired two orphans (7 and 10) to take me around on their boat in Cambodia and the little one especially was so excited to have me there, aching for a parent figure of some kind (I was just out of college).
They would probably say we had a terrific day, with a nice tip, but it broke my heart and now that I’m a Dad, I think about them all the time.
At the time both of my parents were in the ICU for different reasons. I had been at the hospital all day and went to get a drink and dinner alone. A guy asked if he could sit with me and he turned out to be a nurse at a different hospital. So I told him about my parents and thanked him for everything he does. Things started to get flirty and he offers to buy me a beer. I tell him I have a boyfriend (now husband) and I don’t want him to buy me a beer. (My husband was in the town we lived in, I was in my home town ~3hrs away.) He buys me one anyway and still hangs out with me the rest of the night. Stops being flirty. It was so nice to not be treated differently after bringing up your significant other. This was ~5 years ago and I never saw him again. Small acts of kindness can go a long way. Thanks random guy!
In college, I would walk to and from work through a park, and a new regular guy showed up. He was older and usually played Cat Stevens songs on his guitar and sang. I don’t think we ever made eye contact.
One day, I decided to just sit down and listen for a bit. While sitting there, I realized I’d never heard him play my favorite song. He finished the song he was playing, looked at me, smiled, and started playing that song (Trouble).
When he was done with that, he looked at me again, smiled, we said hello, and he said he was my guardian angel. I think I was scared or shocked by what he said, so I politely excused myself. I never saw him again, but I think about him and that day a lot.
I was once on a flight from Boston to Detroit like 7 years ago. I was seated next to a pretty attractive guy and he was watching an unfamiliar show. He could tell I was doing the awkward neighbor move of trying to see what he was watching and he just handed me the other side of his head phones and gave me a little nod. I started listening and this was my first exposure to It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I’m not sure if this will mark me for the rest of my life but its a damn good show and it’s a nice memory to have with a cute stranger.
I was on a missions trip to Uganda, and we spent a week in a refugee camp. Everyone there lived in mud huts and similar housing, but as we were walking around I came across this lovely home that was painted a bright yellow on the outside (which was mud and sticks).
The inside was painted white and had pretty curtains (just pieces of cloth, but very pretty cloth) in the window and some kind of fake tile rug on the floor. It was in stark contrast to the poverty, dust, and overall aura of sadness in the camp that I had to stop and admire it.
I complimented the man on his beautiful home, saying “It looks like an American magazine cover!” because seriously, it did. I asked him how he managed to do that, and he said (with the aid of a translator we had in our group), “It doesn’t matter if you’re poor or rich. You have to make do with what God has given you. I am not happy, but I have joy. And I want that joy of the Lord to show in my life.”
This happened about four years ago, and I honestly think about that man every day.
I was with my kid crossing the street when he was 3 or 4 with his strider bike. I always made a point of us getting off the bikes when crossing an intersection. So I had him get off his bike and as we were walking across a busy intersection, a person in a car called out “That is some good parenting.” Never even spoke to either person but it stuck with me.
Back when I was in school I was doing a rotation at a local hospital when I met a 96 year old WWII veteran (in the acute critical care unit). I was talking to him and getting the usual medical information, and like most people, he would begin to go off on tangents and life stories. Luckily that day I wasnt too busy so I decided to stay in his room a little longer than usual and chat with him. It was amazing to hear his perspective on so many historical events. In the midst of the conversation he stops himself and ask me You married!? I tell him no, but I am considering engagement soon (I was with my girlfriend of 7 years and at the time there was a lot of pressure for us to get engaged). He looked at me and said, If you aint sure about it now, you aint gonna be sure about it ever. Might as well break it off. That resonated with me on such a deep level. I was considering splitting with the girlfriend for some time, but those words helped me make up my mind. My girlfriend and I split up about a month after and now… years later I am so much happier than I thought I ever would be. His words changed the course of my life. Unfortunately, I never got to speak with him again after that. He did not make it more than a few more days after that.
My mom was dying (pancreatic cancer) and I was spending every last moment in her hospital room with her. I had flown in from where I lived 800 miles away, and my pregnant wife wanted to be there with me as well. It was later in the evening, time for us to sleep, and we only had one cot between the two of us. My wife and I wound up wandering the mostly empty halls of the hospital in search of a cot and wound up down in a basement area with what looked like a bunch of labs for research (or maybe just where blood tests, etc. were run I don’t really know).
A doctor who was working in one of the labs saw us through the window and came out to ask if we were lost. We explained our situation, and she left what she was working on to walk us to the area of the hospital we needed to be in and stayed with us until we found a cot. She didn’t have to help at all, much less stay by our side until we were taken care of. It certainly wasn’t her job. But she did it anyway. It was a relatively small gesture of kindness, but in that moment it meant an extraordinary amount to me.
I was 14 at the time, and my family and I were walking down NYC when we saw a homeless man with a dog. My mom said “Just keep walking” but I couldn’t just avoid the guy. He seemed innocent enough, and he had a really cute dog. So I took out my wallet and gave him a $5 bill. He looked at me, obviously hearing my mom say to avoid him, and started to smile. I never talked to the guy, ever saw him again, but that smile of his was the purest thing I have ever seen in my LIFE. I don’t remember much from when I was that age, maybe a girl I had a crush on or which team won the Superbowl, but his smile was so… bright, and hopeful, and it just makes me wonder how he’s doing today.
Growing up, I was always pretty shy and didn’t have many friends. I didn’t talk to people and didn’t really care to be around people. In 2008, I went to Disney World with my family for vacation. There was a group of teenagers from Brazil there who kept chanting “Brazil” and there was another group from Argentina shouting, “Argentina.” It just so happened to be my birthday and the Brazilians saw me chanting “Brazil” with them and then they saw the pin on my shirt that said “It’s my birthday.” They proceeded to grab me, pick me up and crowd surf me. They passed me over to the Argentinians and then back to the Brazilians. Most kids would have freaked out, but because that day was already a bad day, these people, just out of pure kindness, celebrated my birthday with me. I was able to talk to some of them afterwards and they really encouraged me to get out of my shell. I’ve never been the same since.
I once met this guy who looked like Robin Williams shortly after his death. I was doing a magic trick and he walked up and told me to never stop believing in magic. He told me he had a tumor and was on his death bed. Then suddenly it disappeared. He told me it must have been magic, never stop believing in magic. Part of me wants to believe that was Peter Pan or the genie. Still haven’t stopped believing in magic.
I was at a party once when I was about 16, the birthday boy was turning 22 so there was a good range of people my age into their early 30s. However there was one guy who stood out like a sore thumb. He looked like he was at least 45 and came straight from his office job. He had a collared shirt buttoned up and tucked into khakis, big thick glasses, a pink necktie tied around his head, jumping around to the live (screamo/hardcore) band that was playing in the living room. This guy was having the most fun of anyone there clearly and we all started joking about him in our corner wondering if he was on drugs, secretly videoing him (I know, terrible teenagers), etc.
As the party went on and I got a few more drinks into me I saw him sitting off to the side and my curiosity got the better. I sat with him and tried to politely ask how exactly he fit in here. When he started talking I could see he wasn’t on drugs, didn’t even seem drunk. He just told me to stay young. Him and his wife always kept up being social and going to parties and no one his own age liked to go out anymore. I made some comment that he was keeping up, as he was clearly the life of the party. He seemed happy and smiled before he told me it was the first time he’d been out since his wife had passed away 2 months prior and he was trying to go extra hard for the both of them.
I’m a biologist and have a tattoo of the molecular structure of DNA on my left calf. I was walking into a supermarket not long after starting my PhD (also not long after getting the tattoo, which was a celebratory gift to myself) when a guy by the door pointed to my leg and said “That’s DNA.” He was a little the worse for wear – dishevelled, dirty clothes, half-drunk with another half bottle of whisky to go…
I stopped briefly to acknowledge him and we ended up chatting for a few minutes. It turned out that he was a former academic chemist. He once had a family, a good job which he loved and a pretty good life. But he always drank too much and it got the better of him. He was so happy that I was trying to get my doctorate and wanted to become a research scientist, and kept encouraging me to work hard and keep believing in myself. Before I headed in to the shop, he held up his bottle and said “Don’t do this. Be better than me.” The first part isn’t verbatim, the second is.
That conversation has stayed with me ever since.
When I was processing in at basic training, we were all kinda asking each other different questions, why’d you enlist, where you from, that sorta thing. I started talking to this one guy from somewhere in Africa (I want to say Somalia, but I don’t remember) and I ask him why, of all things he could’ve done in the States, he chose to enlist.
He told me that where he’s from, people would be dragged out of their homes and shot for being part of the wrong tribe, or wore the wrong kind of clothes, or just did anything not considered normal. He said that if you spoke out against the people in charge, you’d just go missing overnight. He told me when he came to America, he was shocked to see people of all kinds, wearing all sorts of different clothes, and getting along, and speaking their minds freely. He said that this country is the most beautiful thing he’s ever seen, and that he couldn’t possibly understand why some people despised it so much, why so many people claim that “America isn’t free.” He told me that this country gave him freedom, and that it simply wouldn’t be right to not do something to give back to it. He liked that he was in the military, not because he was forced to, but because he chose to.
I don’t remember his name, or anything about him, but those words stuck with me.
A few decades ago a man saved me from falling in front of a fast-moving 18-wheeler. I was about 7 years old, had been walking home from school and was standing on a curb at a busy, fast moving intersection waiting for the light to change. I was kicking at something on the cement curb or doing something else little kids do and suddenly lost my balance, pitched forward headfirst directly into the path of this oncoming semi trailer. As soon as I did I felt a large strong arm wrap over my left shoulder and pull me back. I dont recall if the semi truck honked or not but I do remember gasping at the tiny margin of time between getting pulled back and the passing of the truck, the blast of wind in my face from it. I would have been dead for sure if not for this man but I have no idea who he was because I was catatonic, standing rigid for the next few seconds (minutes?). I didnt even turn around and look up to see his face or thank him I was so frightened still. Then the light changed and this group of people all started going past me across the street. I just walked forward. Ive never been able remember anything else about that day.
Whoever you are if youre still out there thank you for saving me. Your kindness and quick reflexes not only saved me but allowed me to save someone else many years later.
I was watching the 4th of July fireworks in Boston from a bridge over the Charles River. The fireworks are launched from further downstream towards Boston Harbor, so you get a nice view over the water if you stand on a bridge. Also, tons of people watch the fireworks from their boats down in the river. So if you wait around for about 10 minutes after the fireworks end, you get to see a second, slow-motion light show: all the little boats making their way back upstream. The river is absolutely full of them. It’s really peaceful.
So I was standing there watching the boats drift towards me when a disheveled middle-aged guy – possibly homeless, possibly drunk or high, definitely a little incoherent – wandered up next to me and started talking. I wasn’t sure at first whether he was talking to me or just talking because like me, he was staring out at the river. He seemed equal parts in awe of and terrified by the whole fireworks experience. He kept asking me wasn’t it beautiful, and don’t we live in a beautiful city? But then he’d hang his head over the railing and moan, “I want to disappear; I just want to disappear.”
We talked for a bit. Eventually I told him I was heading home and said good night, and as I turned to go he called out “Hey! …I’m with you,” and gave me a fist bump.
I don’t know why this moment stuck with me exactly. I guess it was like a little bundle of opposite experiences and emotions – beauty and ugliness, amusement and fear, joy and despair, connection and loneliness.
Worked for a staffing agency when a mother and her 20-year-old son walked in. He was intellectually challenged and never had a job. I had the mother sit outside while I spoke with him. He was very proud about helping his father put up drywall, and proceeded to show me his muscles. I called the manager of a store we were contracted with, explained the situation as best as I could. Long story short, he was hired. When I told his mom he had a job and went over his schedule with them, she couldn’t stop crying. Anyway, he changed me because he gave me the gift of hope.
I was somewhere around age 8-10. I was with my mom and we’d gone to get gas. Outside, at the pump, she lost her temper and started screaming at me over something. I don’t remember what it was now.
Anyway, afterwards, she sent me inside to pay for something. There were 4 or 5 people in there who had obviously witnessed the screaming. Very awkward silence as I sniffed and stared at the floor. Finally one man said, “It’ll get better.”
I still wasn’t calm enough to speak, so I just nodded. And that was it.
To this day, I’ve never forgotten that man. A kind word was exactly what I needed right then.
And he was right. It did get better.
On vacation one time and tried to pull the “cool dude” and pick up a girl. It was a family vacation in a suburb outside the city, so only families around. Making it incredibly awkward for 14-year-old me to find a girl my age and get her. I managed it though. Found someone looking for the same sort of fling. Definitely just as nerdy and a virgin like me. We spent like two whole days in each other’s company and making out in whatever spot we could find private (which wasn’t much). I never managed to sleep with her, but we had a great time for those two days. I’ll never forget that time with her. And she really was the first girl that really showed me that I had it in me to do things with a girl. It was a real confidence boost for my teenage years. We exchanged emails but never talked or saw each other again. Maggie, you were awesome.
I once met a man who was a refugee from Somalia. He was homeless, had no money, worked at a local church for food and occasionally shelter and he was the happiest human being I ever meet. He spoke broken English but was quite intelligent so he got his point across, and his point was that was he was better than good. In Somalia if he was alive he was good, if he had a meal a few times a week he was good, if he didn’t get shot at he was good. Now he is in a safe country with food and shelter and he was the happiest man on earth and loved life even though by typical first world standards he had nothing. So now whenever I am in a bad mood or angry about something I think of the day I met that man from Somalia and if it is worth lowering myself from being better than good.