The kindness of strangers: an unexpected encounter


By Isobel Edmondson, Second Year, Theatre and French

The Croft Magazine // Isobel shares the story of how a Bristolian couple she happened to meet changed her outlook on life for the better.

Just over a year ago, before the pandemic and the day after I returned to uni after the Christmas holidays, I woke up on a sunny morning and thought it would be the perfect day to take a walk to the Clifton Suspension Bridge. I was used to doing this alone, and I expected nothing out of the ordinary to happen, thinking I’d probably head to the library afterwards.

I stuck my headphones on and set off to admire the view as so many of us like to do there. Little did I know how this day would leave a lasting mark on me to this day.

Epigram / Eve Coleman

When I arrived, I sat down on a free bench and just stared into the distance, absorbed in my cyclical thoughts and not really paying attention to the podcast I was listening to.

I must have looked a bit low (I have a self-diagnosed case of ‘resting bitch face’ which unfortunately runs in the family) because a woman – let’s call her Julie – who lived locally came and sat by me.

For a moment she didn’t say anything but then she turned to me and asked if I was okay. Julie had approached me because she said I looked reflective. She wasn’t wrong, but I probably wasn’t thinking of anything too profound – maybe my to-do list or how long I should stay there enduring my disappointing choice of podcast. I told her I was fine and just admiring the view.

I understood why Julie had come over. We talked about the sad associations with students and the bridge over the years and then went on to more general topics like where I’m from, what I’m studying, etc. Her husband, Peter, came over and joined the conversation. To my surprise, he suggested that I joined them for lunch in a nearby café.

Without trying to be dramatic, it felt a bit like something from a book or film

At first, I was hesitant to accept. I thought they were probably just being polite – we didn’t know each other after all, but eventually I agreed because I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t. They seemed friendly enough. I was caught off-guard by their offer but there was surely no harm in letting myself be spontaneous for one day. The idea of not having to cook my own lunch with the less-than-inspiring ingredients I had in my flat was also rather appealing, it must be said!

We had soup in a cosy café they frequented and we talked about our lives, families and interests. It was fascinating to hear their stories; I realised that I had never really had a proper conversation with a Bristolian before, and had met very few people outside of the student age bracket during my time at Bristol uni.

Without trying to be dramatic, it felt a bit like something from a book or film. They were full of advice and encouragement for people I had only met about half an hour ago; Peter telling me that it was okay to not know what I was doing, and that life is there to be enjoyed. They made me feel truly seen and heard, which is quite a rare experience when you’re surrounded by a huge sea of students. It’s very easy to feel anonymous, especially in first year when you’re still settling into a completely new life.

'Who knows who you might meet, and how you could alter each other's lives for the better?' | Epigram / Eve Coleman

Julie told me that I had a lovely smile, which was refreshing to hear after being constantly told by random men on the street to ‘cheer up, love’ (yes, this still happens in this decade). It’s as if they had a sixth sense for what I needed to hear at that point in my life. I remember their words echoing in my mind for weeks after, and I had a noticeable spring in my step. Julie and I exchanged numbers and we parted ways. When I arrived home, I was almost questioning if I had imagined the entire afternoon. We kept in contact and a few weeks later I met Julie again for coffee.

What would’ve otherwise been another day in the stuffy library turned into an inspiring start to the new term when Julie decided to sit by me and see if I was okay. If I had returned to Bristol a day later or decided to stay within the four walls of my little dorm room, I would not have had this uplifting experience.

In retrospect, I realise that it is precisely what I needed at the time as I think I was feeling more down than I wanted to admit. It is even more profound to consider that this couple could have saved someone’s life that day if I had been in need of more serious help, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they have.

Just being outside with other people around reminds you that there are so many other lives that are completely different to your own

I’m sharing this story with the aim of encouraging people to connect with people who look a little lost or upset because you never know what they are going through. For all you know, you could even be experiencing something similar to them. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know them – though it goes without saying that you should trust your instincts and not to put yourself in danger – you could be exactly what someone needs in that moment.

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I am also writing this to encourage people to get outside if they are feeling down. I know it’s a lot more restricted at the moment with lockdown measures and can be easier said than done, but just being outside with other people around reminds you that there are so many other lives that are completely different to your own; each person with their unique set of problems. It might help put things into perspective.

I’ve learned that it is so beneficial to physically step outside of the uni bubble and connect with the outside world as much as possible. Who knows who you might meet, and how you could alter each other's lives for the better?

Featured image: Epigram / Rosie Angel-Clark