Tapestry

Stranger things: what we can learn from people we don't know

Strangers can change our lives every day in sometimes small ways, and in other times, ways that leave a legacy. Colleen Kinder is the editor of Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt us, a collection of letters to those strangers who are hard to forget.
Passengers on a motorbike are sprayed with water from revelers on roadside as they participate in the last day of 2016 new year water festival in Naypyitaw, Myanmar. The holiday comes at the hottest time of the year and is best known for the enthusiastic splashing of water upon friends and strangers alike. (Aung Shine Oo/The Associated Press)

Strangers can change our lives in sometimes small ways, and in other times, ways that leave a legacy. 

Colleen Kinder is the editor of Letter to a Stranger: Essays to the Ones Who Haunt Us, a collection of letters to the strangers who are hard to forget. 

In 2016 Kinder, along with co-creator Vince Errico, began looking for stories about strangers for the website Off Assignment. The hunt was inspired by a talk travel writer Pico Iyer gave to a class she was teaching at Yale University. 

Kinder was struck by Iyer's memory of a woman he met in Iceland, who accompanied him for his entire trip — and yet never appeared in any of his work. 

The idea of a stranger who lingers in memory became the Off Assignment column, a slowly growing collection of essays by writers from across the world.

"While every society is stocked with teachers and mentors—the official and credentialed sort—there are invisible ranks of guides and quiet sages out there, edifying us in the most unexpected places," Kinder writes. 

Tapestry shares stories not just from Kinder, but also from writers Sheba Karim and Monet P. Thomas on their lasting encounters with strangers. 

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