Several months ago, I wrote two posts based on a concept from the book “Consequential Strangers: The Power of People Who Don’t Seem to Matter. . . But Really Do,” by Melinda Blau and Karen L. Fingerman. (See “Consequential Strangers” — Parts 1 and 2.)
The general idea is that there are people we see every day or week or month, usually in a particular context, that are not close friends but are still more important to us than strangers. We know each other by name and sight and maybe chat now and then.
A list of consequential strangers could include a co-worker, a neighbor, someone you see often at the local coffee shop or someone you hire to mow your lawn, dry clean your clothes, etc. The book explored the idea that these people may play a more important role in our lives than we realize. They can add to our social and emotional well-being and help us feel more connected.
They can even be powerful sources of information, referrals, and different perspectives.
I wrote about some of my personal “consequential strangers,” including several people (and dogs) that I see on my daily walks in and around my neighborhood. One of these is a gentleman in his late 90’s who walks nearly every day. On some days we’d just see each other from across the street and wave. Other days we’d stop and have a conversation, which we both enjoyed.
He made such an impression on me that I dedicated a whole post to him. (See “Want to Improve Your Quality of Life Ten Years From Now? Take a Walk Today”)
But I didn’t really know to what degree I had apparently also been one of his consequential strangers whom he’d valued. It’s nice to see the other side of the concept, and know that you matter in someone else’s life, even if your contact is relatively casual.
I recently found out that he not only thought about me and considered me someone that mattered in his life in some small way, but that he cared enough about my well-being that he worried when I had changed my walking route on a whim and he hadn’t seen me for a few months.
I guess I’m enough of a creature of habit to make people worry when I do something different, especially for a prolonged period of time.
I had walked on that one street most days for years. Then suddenly, when the weather became unpredictable and my schedule busier, I started taking shorter, more frequent walks closer to where I live, rather than cross a busy street to walk on the long street that we’d both been frequenting.
Eventually, my revised route became my new habit, and I only ventured to my former favorite street for an occasional change.
After enough time went by without his seeing me, my elderly “consequential stranger” (though now I’ve upgraded him to friend) thought I must be out of town or something had happened. He first inquired of his neighbors, then had his daughter email me.
I had given him one of my business cards with my website and email on it, but he doesn’t do modern technology like the internet and smartphones.
It’s not that, even at 97 or 98, he isn’t sharp enough to learn something new. It’s just that he’d rather read and walk and talk to real people, and he’s savvy enough to know that the internet is full of “rabbit holes” that can stealthily eat large pieces of your day.
So, he asked his less tech-avoidant daughter to track me down. He went to all that trouble to find me because after seeing me several days a week, it seemed to him that I’d vanished. And apparently, he cared and was concerned.
I explained to his daughter what had happened and asked her to assure him I was fine. Since then I’ve gone back to my old route now and then, and we’ve crossed paths and spoken.
But it impressed me that he valued me enough to make all that effort to find me. It means a lot to hear that you matter to someone else. So after you’ve reviewed your list of “consequential strangers,” maybe you’ll be moved to tell one or two who stand out that your encounters with them enrich your life. It may make their day — or week.