Each faceless passer-by has a story

Humanity is one gigantic, tangled mess of yarn. Each of us claims possession of a single fiber, with our lives dancing and weaving next to the strands of our loved ones. Sometimes, an outstanding thread will cross our own path for mere minutes, but that one colorful chance encounter leaves you wondering what formed them in their pasts and what they will accomplish in their futures.
During the early morning hours of the first day of the semester, I experienced one of these unpredictable meetings.
Tired and cold, I was trudging home at one in the morning, both mentally and physically wrapped up in myself. Worried about the first day of class and some unfinished schoolwork, I hunched against the wind, face down and oblivious to my surroundings.
“At least you don’t have to spend the night outside.”
These words suddenly sprung out of the darkness as I passed a bus shelter on Washington Avenue. After a startled yelp and a backward spring, I saw the body attached to the sentence.
A high school boy was huddled on a bench, his sweat shirt pulled over his knees, leaving only his face visible from beneath his hood.
After talking a bit, I learned Joe had been stranded near the campus without money or a way to return home until the morning. Craving company, he needed to unload on someone, so I plopped down next to him and listened to his simple tale of woe.
After visiting someone in Uptown, he had hopped a taxi to another friend’s house near the University. But upon arriving, he discovered that his other friend was not at home, and furthermore, he had inadvertently left his duffel bag, money and wallet in the taxi. Left with little more than a dollar, he intended on waiting until the bus route to his home resumed in the morning.
Only 19 years old, Joe was working his way out of his “rebellious phase,” and had aspirations to attend college and begin a writing career. With an almost comical, world-weary attitude, he approached life with a cynicism tinged with teenage angst. Youth and inexperience afforded him the liberty to take himself too seriously.
Although the windchill factor that night was close to zero, he stubbornly refused all my offers of shelter, a scarf, gloves or even food, resolving to tough this out on his own. Joe claimed, “I got myself into it; I can get myself out, or at least deal with the consequences.”

I realized, though, that these words are easily spouted when you’re with another living, breathing human being.
Without the warmth of companionship, the black and cold of night seep into your mind and form pools of loneliness and fear. I decided to stay with Joe until he either found a decent shelter or he could catch a bus back home.
As the night progressed, we wandered up and down Washington Avenue, loitering in Harvard Market as long as legally possible and dining on old coffee and stale doughnuts. But around 4:30 a.m., when his feet became painfully frozen and his hands raw, he finally relented to my offer of warm refuge.
Together, we hurried back to my apartment where I set up a cot with some blankets for him. We exchanged addresses, I gave him permission to make coffee, and then I passed out on the sofa.
Completely exhausted from lack of sleep the many nights before, I needed at least four hours of sleep before attending the first day of classes. Joe had to catch his bus at 6 a.m., and when I awoke around 8 a.m., he had already departed.
For three hours that night, I talked with a complete stranger, listening to his life and sharing parts of my own.
Will I ever see him again? It’s doubtful.
What will happen to him in the future and where his thread might lead him I can only guess. Will he succeed in college and become the celebrated author of his dreams? Or might he become the next suburban father, tied to a 9-to-5 job, raising a family and dying in Minnesota, having never achieved his dreams.
Considering fate, it’s just as likely that he might die homeless in a bus shelter, similar to the way I originally met him.
On a campus boasting more than 74,000 people, the possibilities and variables are mind-boggling. While you meet thousands of peers fairly similar to yourself, you are still unaware of what fate holds in store for them.
The casual conversation you struck up with that one-time classmate might be your claim to fame if she someday becomes the first female president. Or the kid you always see in Vincent Hall might become the next Unabomber. Or maybe you will become a world-renowned rock star, and others will vaguely remember your face from their college years.
The truly brilliant people you have the fortune to stumble upon will almost always leave you wondering about their futures and their pasts, and thankful to have known them for even a short time. They will remain in your memory as a shimmering thread you once ran across during the random twinings of your own life.
You have already met hundreds, if not millions, of people whose lives brush by your own, sometimes registering with you and sometimes not.
Don’t take these numerous interactions lightly: These random people contain bundles of incredible potential that can bring a spark to another’s life if given the chance. Some of them might inspire or motivate you in ways you’ll never imagine.
After all, look at me. Because of one chance meeting, I was able to write a column this week. Thanks, Joe.
Samantha Pace’s column will appear on alternate Tuesdays. She welcomes comments at [email protected]