I make a habit of locking eyes with perfect strangers. It’s something I’m compelled to do. I want to know if there’s a soul trapped behind their gaze; trapped in a mundane existence of the choices they’ve made or the circumstances life’s dealt them. Often there is simply an empty, non-committal stare in return; strangers make most people nervous. Sometimes though, I see a sparkling dancing spirit just waiting for a stranger to connect with them . . .
I travelled recently to a large city as a lone parent with Master 5 months I was amazed at how many strangers were happy to let their spirit shine to the gurgling innocence sparkling forth from my baby; they would sooner strike up a conversation with him and ignore me, such is the captivating aura of a baby. I saw up-tight, stoney-faced people soften before us. It was so profound that when we moved on they closed down again; put their defences up and shrank back into their lives.
Some strangers I crossed wanted to give their physical assistance with either my luggage, the baby stroller or with directions. It could see the indecision in their faces. I could see their ‘worst first thinking’ ticking over with questions like, what if she doesn’t want my help? What if she thinks I’m going to attack her? What is she starts yelling at me? What if the baby is a rouse and she is going to rob me? After locking eyes with them I could put them at ease about the tentative offer of help they were about to make. I could give them permission to do what they wanted to do; help someone.
I could see that they were worried that they would scare me; the lone mother in the big city who was a sitting duck, is perhaps what they thought I thought of myself. They didn’t want to frighten me and they certainly didn’t want their good intentions misconstrued in any negative way. They were the frightened ones.
An example of a stranger’s general tentativeness was when in my eagerness to master the underground train system with a stroller I got off at a station which was below street level and did not have a lift. I had been out all day shopping and sight-seeing and as I looked up at a long flight of stairs I wondered how I would go lifting the baby and stroller up that far. Just then a man appeared at the top of the stairs. He was large, burly and hairy. He had a fluoro coloured work vest on and he did not approach me but looked down and waited to see what I was going to do. I locked his gaze and his offer poured forth. He said with his hands up, palms facing me, “Would you like some help, I can lift the pram up; only if you want”. I accepted with a smile and within seconds was on my grateful way.
I travelled on planes, trains, buses and in taxis and I was helped by men and women during my holiday as I struggled with baby harness, back pack, stroller and bags. Maybe it was travelling with a baby that immediately makes a woman more approachable which allowed them to make an offer. Or maybe it’s simply that people are generally inherently helpful but they are hampered by societal notions of stranger-danger and ‘not getting involved’.
As a big thank-you to each stranger I gave them my best sparkly eyes and held their gaze for longer than what was appropriate until they, embarrassed, dropped their gaze and moved on.
Have you ever travelled by yourself with a baby? How do you feel about accepting the help of strangers? Or, have you ever offered your help to a traveller in need?