With great power comes great responsibility
The saying goes: sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me. Though usually a fan of cheesy sayings, I have to express my contempt for this one. Yeah, sticks and stones hurt — you’ve got me there. However, as a writer myself, I esteem words to be incredibly powerful. They have the capacity to leave scars that last far longer than the impermanent bruises of sticks and stones.
Last week, I shed some much-deserved light on the dangerous capacity of strangers to leave lasting impressions. In recalling my most memorable catcalling experiences, I cemented the profound magnitude that words hold. Because with great power comes great responsibility (just one of the many cheesy sayings I do favour): this has the capacity to be used for good or evil.
Due to my affinity for the darndest things to happen to me, I also have a number of amazing interactions with strangers that foster my fascination with sonder. In case I tarnished your faith in the goodness of strangers last week, I will share my most fondly remembered experiences with strangers to hopefully reignite this faith and establish the weight that words hold.
The main character at Major’s Hill
Our story, contrary to the title, does not begin at Major’s Hill. Rather, it commences in the comfort of my bathroom. Equal parts nervous and excited, I was about to hang out with some guy — was it a date? To this day, I don’t know. Anyhow, I had just finished curling my already curly hair (ironic, I know — if you get it, you get it), doing my makeup, and putting on an outfit that I had deemed just effortlessly cool enough, when I received an unfortunate text — he couldn’t make it. He had a good reason, sure. However, I couldn’t fight that sinking feeling of rejection. I wasn’t mad… just disappointed. All dressed up and nowhere to go, I decided to make the most of a good hair day and take a good old-fashioned long walk.
The warm weather and beautiful sights offered some comfort to me as I tried not to think about the almost-maybe-date. Typing an article, not unlike this one, I was approached by a man in a quintessential indie boy outfit: a sweatshirt that he probably thrifted layered over a collared shirt, with pants that were likely Dickies brand — you know the vibe. The cherry on top was the camera decoratively dangling from his neck — whereas my outfit was effortlessly cool, his was effortlessly artsy.
In a beautiful French accent, he introduced himself, complimented me, and asked if he could take my picture. While avoiding visibly swooning, I said yes — duh. With that accent, he could have asked for much more than a picture. We had a lovely conversation in which we spoke in French and he told me about his journey with photography.
Though it turned out he was visiting from too far away for this to have been anything more than a lovely fleeting encounter, it is a beautiful moment that I’ll fondly remember for a long time. After feeling a little dejected from being blown off by some guy just an hour prior, the nice words of this stranger were exactly what the doctor ordered. I was feeling rather down in the dumps before he’d approached me and he was the reason my day turned around, though he’ll never know it. Such is the power of words and the kindness of strangers.
The only good catcall to exist ever
I know what you’re thinking — good catcalls exist? I thought not, too, until experiencing a pseudo catcall from an unlikely culprit on Osgoode Street. It is worth noting that I regularly pass an elementary school en route to campus. This means that I often hear the nostalgic ringing of the school bell, the screaming of overzealous kids playing incredibly competitive games of tag, and adorable french accents as they greet “Maman” and “Papa” at pick up time. As a camp counsellor of four years, my adoration for children is a prominent personality trait of mine.
On this particular day, I was walking down Osgoode, backpack and numerous deadlines in tow, as I miserably sentenced myself to study in isolation on campus. All of a sudden, I hear a high-pitched voice cry out in my direction, “Hey, you!”
Startled, I stop in my tracks. Upon seeing a little girl clad in unicorn headbands and monochromatic pink outerwear — not the usual attire of those who heckle me on the streets.
Hesitantly, I replied: “Hey?”
My school-yard catcaller yelled back: “You’re really pretty!”
I’m even more taken aback than before. Genuinely touched, I mean it when I respond: “Thank you! So are you!”
Our interaction ended when she told me to have a good day — and if I did, it was because of how her words affected me. I walked the rest of the way to campus with a smile on my face.
Is it possible that she said this to every pedestrian on Osgoode and that her words had no real meaning? Sure. Does that negate how uplifting they were at that moment? Absolutely not. I was nothing short of elated — this is the uncanny ability of strangers to improve otherwise okay days.
Premiere Moisson and the reason why I never stop talking
I’ve spoken to the sparseness of the cafeteria during my year of living in residence at the height of the pandemic. If you doubted that there were really that few people on campus, this is evidence of it.
Premiere Moisson, found on the first floor of FSS, boasts sandwiches, soups, and too-kind cashiers who dish out compliments in conjunction with utensils and receipts, if you’re lucky. On this particular day, I was. Prepared to check out my chickpea coconut soup (which ended up being quite good, actually), I made my way to the cash register. I recognized the woman working. She was among the staff I spoke to throughout the course of the year.
When I approached the counter, she was tinkering with something below and had her head down. I did my customary: “Hi, how are you?” Her head shot up and her eyes lit up with recognition. She fondly returned my pleasantries before telling me she not only remembered me, but recognized me based on the sound of my voice alone. She said that she always thought my voice was very pleasant and calm the year prior and that she knew it was me without even looking up.
I have never felt more flattered. If ever I pursue a career in reading audiobooks, it will be because of her. I think I must have smiled for the next hour — oddly-specific compliments, especially from strangers, stick with you in the sweetest way. It’s a testament to the fact that we exist in other peoples’ lives in ways we will never be fully privy to.
An incredibly Canadian encounter
Because I don’t have the self-restraint to do work at my desk that is mere inches from my bed (Sandy Hill bedroom sizes, am I right?), I exile myself from my house on a daily basis to different nooks and crannies of campus. As I write this article, I am making use of the academic ambiance of CRX to induce — or rather, force — some semblance of concentration into my abysmal attention span.
Luck would have it that, as I was searching my memory for the best interactions I shared with strangers, my latest one would transpire. A nice girl approached my friend and I, only to offer us a box of Tim Hortons donuts — how delightfully and stereotypically Canadian. This interaction was sweet in the literal and figurative sense of the word and felt like a sign from the universe: strangers really do have the power to make or break your day.
If you take anything away from this article, I hope it’s that we all have the capacity to impact other peoples’ days. Perhaps it’s unfair to say, but I remember the compliments that I received from strangers better than the ones I’ve received from friends and family. It just means more hearing your hair looks pretty from someone who has no real obligation to say such a thing and went out of their way to do so.
I like to remember that I have the ability to be the kind stranger that makes a person’s day, too. As such, I pay it forward by complimenting the cool outfits, adorable dogs, and pretty hairstyles of Sandy Hill streets as often and earnestly as I can. I encourage you to do the same.