Vicky Ewan: Touching lives of people who are otherwise strangers

Torbay Weekly

I imagine we all have people who are in our lives incidentally - not our friends, or family, or even our colleagues or neighbours, but people with whom we share regular interactions and who are woven into the fabric of our days without us really noticing that they occupy an intrinsic position.

It could be the friendly lollipop lady who always offers a warm smile on the wintriest of days; or the teenager we see walking their dog past our gate every afternoon; or the young family crossing at the lights on their way to school, children skipping irrepressibly ahead.

Whatever the context, these encounters, however fleeting, can colour and shape our days - I suspect that for people who live alone they can be a Godsend, providing a little lift and a welcome morsel of human contact.

During Lockdown One: The Original Lockdown, when each of us was isolated from unnecessary interaction, any instance of meeting or merely catching a glimpse of another person took on a fresh significance.

I was still walking into work every day, but the streets were almost always deserted and devoid of life, with most of the shops and businesses in the local vicinity closed.

Mask-wearing in the great outdoors was par for the course, and denied solitary pedestrians simple acts of solidarity, such as sharing a smile.

Happening upon people who were roaming abroad for the prescribed bout of daily exercise in the absence of those cheery visual cues was a gloomy aspect of lockdown's lengthy days; I certainly missed the hitherto under-appreciated sight of a stranger sporting a pleasant grin.

Shop assistants, business receptionists, café crew - to name but a few - are essential players on the stage of our daily human experience, and all can turn a bad day good with a friendly word and a genuine smile.

These informal incidents, superficially unremarkable though they may be, impact our lives perhaps more than we realise; I value those brief encounters more these days.

We are blessed with wonderful domestic staff at work, and they are a prime example of the serendipitous presence of incidental people in my life.

Our window cleaner visits the premises on a monthly basis, and is quite possibly the cheeriest chap I have had the pleasure to meet, whatever the weather.

We always indulge in a brief chat once his labours are finished, and he never fails to brighten the dullest of days with his perpetual bonhomie.

One of our cleaners, a sunny lady whose smile and warm demeanour are a Friday joy, recently requested the harvesting of rosehips from the garden, should they be surplus to requirements.

We readily furnished her with the colourful fruit, and I was charmed when she approached me the following week with a pretty blush-pink jar of homemade rosehip jelly, which I had never previously sampled, and which is utterly delicious; it was a kindness that made my day.

I hadn't discovered until recently that I myself have had occasion to be a heartening sight to a stranger; I don't think many of us consider ourselves to be worthy subjects of scrutiny, and I was amazed to learn I had caught someone's eye.

The lady in question had lately suffered a distressing personal loss, and it was a work capacity through which we communicated.

I realised prior to our initial conversation that she resided in a house whose garden boasted a spectacular floral display that always filled me with pleasure as I ambled workwards, but I was surprised to discover that, for her part, she had observed me making the daily sojourn past her gate, and even more startled to hear her describe my deportment as serene - a term whose flattering qualities I would never have suspected could be applied to myself, but which was nonetheless heart warming to hear.

I think we can all underestimate our ability to touch the lives of people who are otherwise strangers, and can walk through life utterly oblivious to our own presence in the world; it seems clear, though, that the smallest overtures of friendliness can sow seeds that sprout and grow and flourish into saplings of happiness.

Now the face masks are largely off, let's keep smiling and greeting each other - we never know when we might just make someone's day.