"And I’ve noticed a change: where the sort of disdain that we had for the home town life has been replaced by a certain nostalgia – in some cases, even moments of doubt, late at night –about that choice we made so many years ago, to go and be strangers in a new world and try to make it our own, and wether that choice was the right one."
This podcast by Leah Thau got me thinking about what a stranger really is. I certainly relate to her: being a foreigner in a new world and trying to make it my own, even the endless self-doubt about the choices I've made. I identify with the stories she tells, so go and listen to them, they are great. But I'd like to explore this word "stranger" a little more and delve a little deeper.
As my favourite philosopher, and adoptive name-sake Jacques Derrida points out: how can one truly ever know others, when one can never really know oneself? So are we strangers to ourselves? Does this make everyone a stranger? When is someone no longer a stranger to you and what qualifies someone as a stranger? Is it how well you know them, or think you know them?
You can know someone for years, even love someone, but then they can surprise you and do something completely unexpected, making you question if you ever really knew them at all. After this betrayal they become a kind of stranger all over again. So perhaps it has something to do with trust? After all, we were constantly told as children not to trust strangers.
Even surreal is when a person you once knew and trusted intimately, slowly fades into obscurity and out of your life, becoming a stranger all over again. This is demonstrated perfectly in Daughter's haunting song "Winter".
And we were in flames, I needed, I needed you
To run through my veins, like disease, disease
And now we are strange, strangers
I've always found it ironic how the largest cities in the world seem to be the loneliest places. Its as if the greater the concentration of strangers, the more intensely one feels the loneliness.
I first noticed this in London's epicentre: standing in oxford circus, with a whirlpool of people swirling around me, a torrent of strangers, each wrapped up in their own lives. Closed books that I will never read, each with their own story, which I can only guess at, painting their covers with my own brush.
London is full of these stories.
Like the man in the red hoodie, who stands outside his block of flats on West End Lane, day-in, day-out, just hidden from view behind the hedge, grinning and smiling as he bops to the sound coming from his earphones that only he can hear.
Or the girl in Camden staring out of her window into the distance, ignoring the crowds beneath her while she smokes a cigarette.
Or the woman sobbing silently on the Jubilee line. Was she heart broken, hurt or grieving? I can only imagine.
We are all strangers.