After writing last week’s post, I vowed to be friendlier to newcomers at some of my regular places. Without planning to, however, I became friendlier to everyone, everywhere. You name it, I found lots of places to chat with people: the bike trails, the office building, the new downtown grocery store, and my neighborhood. And while I normally enjoy talking to strangers, I kicked it up a bit this week. This has led to some interesting interactions. Some of these conversations have reminded me of that quote: “Be kind; Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

Last weekend, I was getting a manicure. I had been recently described by a professional acquaintance as “prim and proper,” which I didn’t like. In order to prove to myself that I wasn’t completely that way, I had chosen a shade of bright green nail polish for my fingernails. It was the green version of Pepto-Bismal pink. (I’m living on the wild side, I know!)

The grandmotherly woman next to me and I began to chat. She was surprised by my bright nail color. I told her my story about why I had chosen that unusual shade. I would show him! We laughed. She told me her friends would never describe her as prim and proper. We chuckled. I mentioned that her friends probably liked her sense of humor. She said, “Well, I hope my sense of humor will get me through Tuesday.” “Why?” I asked. “Because I’m having a total hip replacement. I don’t know how it’s going to go and the recovery varies widely from person to person.”

She continued to tell me that she worked in the wing at the hospital where she’d be recovering from the surgery, which was both good and bad. It would be nice to see familiar faces, but she also preferred to be the caregiver, not the patient. She was understandably worried. Without our visiting, I would have assumed her life was smooth sailing. Maybe she’d see her grandkids this week and perhaps do a little baking. I would guess that her lawn was  freshly-mowed and tidy. I never would have known this person was a couple of days away from major surgery, followed by a big recovery that would impact her daily life for quite a while.

A few days later, I had another surprising conversation with somebody I didn’t know. While at the grocery store, a 30-year-old woman stood behind me in line, her arms full of groceries. I offered her space on the conveyor belt, but she said, “No thanks. It’s good strength training.” I agreed and said something about how it’s good to fit in a workout whenever one can. She said, “Yes, especially today. I haven’t been home since last night.”  It was now 1 p.m. “What?!” I asked. She told me that she had worked her night shift at the hospital and then spent the morning with her 12-week-old nephew who just had had open heart surgery. He was in the NICU. Oh my goodness. This was not what I expected to hear.

I asked how her baby nephew was doing. She said that he was doing better, but they didn’t know when he would be discharged from the hospital. I asked how the little boy’s parents were doing. She said they were doing alright. They were feeling better because their son was now strong enough that they could finally hold him. They had to wait 12 weeks to hold their son? Heart-breaking. The woman also told me that she had four children herself and would like one more, but her husband was adamant that they were done. The customer ahead of me finished paying and it was my turn to move through the line. I paid for my things, wished the “stranger” (who no longer felt like a stranger anymore) good luck and headed on my way.

It’s easy to think that life is static. And at times, it sometimes is. We have regular day after regular day. But at other times, it’s not. We all have worries, lose loved ones, get injured, have surgeries and maybe even worse.

It’s even easier to think life is easy, quiet or calm for people we don’t know. But we have no idea about their lives. My random conversations with some people going through big things this week was a reminder to cut people some slack. You just don’t know what they may be going through.

As Oprah says, “Everyone has a story.” This week I was reminded me how true this is. While you don’t want your kids to talk to strangers, you might want to give it a try yourself. You never know whom you might meet. These conversations can make routine errands more fun. And if your routine tasks are more interesting, your life may become more fascinating too!