It had been a busy weekend away working, visiting friends and flat hunting, and I was glad to be dropping into my seat on the train home. I closed my eyes to let the sweet Sunday sunshine drape over my face. I love to travel alone by train, especially on quiet, sunny days. I leaned back, swaying gently in my seat as the wheels coursed along the tracks, drifting in and out of the murmur of conversation rising and falling throughout the carriage.
Trains journeys are also great for getting things done, and I was seizing the opportunity of being confined to a seat to concentrate on logging my hours and calculating my fees for a project I’d just wrapped up. I’d been typing away for about 40 minutes when a woman sat down next to me. She was one of those classy older women who radiate a poised elegance that’s strikingly beautiful. She had short golden curls and a bronzed, friendly face. She wore a floaty peach cotton dress with some earthy green sandals, and the two beaded pendants that hung from her ears winked at me in the sunlight as she unfolded her newspaper. It was one of those inspiring moments where you see exactly how you’d like yourself to be in 30 or 40 years.
After nodding hello at each other, we sat in silence for a while. Then, coming across leaflet in her newspaper, she turned to me and asked:
“Do you read The Guardian?”
“I do, actually,” I replied, laughing.
She smiled, handing me a voucher for a discount on the next day’s copy. “I thought you might.”
I laughed again, feeling my cheeks turn slightly pink as I thanked her, tucking the voucher into my notebook. We began chatting, and the conversation soon turned to why on earth I was working on a Sunday, so I told her all about my job and how it had taken me to Vienna, Seville and all sorts of wonderful places in between. She began to tell me about her life as a classical music publisher. She had cruised the roads of Rome with dazzling composers in their shiny cars back when you were still allowed to drive right through the Roman Forum. Her eyes began to sparkle as she told me how she’d met the love of her life and set up home in Camden, London, dancing through the 70s and becoming mother to two beautiful boys.
I was hanging on her every word, listening intently to how she and her husband had retired to south London together, filling their cosy home with happy memories of decades of marriage. It sounded beautiful, perfect, everything this wonderful woman deserved. But then her smile tightened and her eyes clouded over as her face flooded with a bittersweet remembrance.
“And then he went and died on me.”
I looked back into her smiling, wistful face and felt my heart shatter into a million pieces. “How horribly inconsiderate of him.”
I’ll probably never see this woman again, and I don’t even know her name. But in that moment where we looked at each other through teary eyes, we shared a moment of humanity in its simplest form. I found myself welling up over the loss of a man who I’d never met, on behalf of a woman I’d known for a grand total of half an hour. She found herself telling a small 22 year old girl her life story. And in those 30 minutes, she inspired me to work as hard as possible to lead a life as exciting, fulfilling and adventurous as hers.
There is so much we can gain from simply opening up to one another. And all it takes is a question as simple as “Do you read The Guardian?” Next time you get on a train, try talking to the person next to you. You never know what you might learn.