There’s a frightfully corny saying that you’ll find on postcards and posters for sale all over Ireland: There are no strangers, just friends you haven’t met yet. I say corny, but only because I’ve seen it so often in the context of overpriced woolen jumpers, stuffed leprechauns and tee-shirts with alcohol-related humour. The fact is, for all its corn, I think the saying contains solid gold truth.
I was walking to the supermarket the other day, in a city far away from woolen jumpers and leprechauns, and I started to pay attention to the few other pedestrians I encountered along the way. Many of the faces I saw expressed emotions that ranged from neutral to the quiet desperation that Thoreau wrote about in Walden. My own expression was probably not particularly joyful either, mind you, not because I was sad but because I was among strangers and joy is something we reserve for our friends. But the thought crossed my mind that any one of those faces could in principle be a member of the Wildmind sangha.
I don’t actually think there are any other people in my sangha living in my city, but even if there were, I wouldn’t recognize them. I haven’t met any of them, and know a few only through their profile pictures. And what would happen if I suddenly came to realize that the person I was passing on the street was a member of that group? I’m pretty sure that our neutral expressions would transform into delight and we would greet each other like long-lost friends.
The thought crossed my mind that all of the people I encountered did belong to a group of friends – just not mine. And for every person that passed me, there was at least one long lost friend who would have embraced them in delight on seeing them. I’m not suggesting that hugging random strangers is the way to go (though I really love what the Free Hugs Campaign do). But simply keeping in mind the fact that all strangers we meet are friends to somebody, can change the way we see them as we pass them in the street on the way to the supermarket. It can release a hint of that joy we feel when we meet our friends. And I don’t know of anyone who has too much joy in their lives.