I recently stumbled upon the Humans of New York project, which is quickly becoming one of my favourite blogs. I love how an unpretentious photo and a simple caption can capture something so poignant about a person. Strangers suddenly become familiar and real through the small glimpse that we take into their lives, their struggles, their disappointments and their hopes.
Humans of New York resonates with the part of me that is curious about the world and each of the seven billion people that inhabit it. It reminds us that every person has a story that is perfect and unique. One story that stuck with me recently was this photo of a little girl with the caption: “Dad let go of her hand, but she never let go of dad’s hand”. The photo made me think hard about the importance of nurture, the way that we all resist being pushed outside our comfort zones, and how sometimes the people that we lose in our lives never truly leave us.
I have always been fascinated by the lives of other people and, unsurprisingly, I also adore people watching. I remember observing a frail, elderly woman sweep the floor of Hong Kong airport when I was about 13 years old and wondering who she was and what her life had been like. What was she like as a young girl? What is her family like? What does she think about when she wakes up each morning? It was a surreal moment to realise that this woman – one of the hundreds of people that I saw go past that day – had a story to tell and, despite her age, continues to struggle for something like everybody else.
One of the things that I love about projects like Humans of New York (and also Postsecret, which I have religiously checked every Sunday afternoon for the past ten years) is that it enables us to appreciate just how much we have in common with each other, regardless of who we are and where we have come from. Like the experience as a 13 year old in Hong Kong airport, it makes us – I hope – think twice before passing judgment about a stranger. It often only takes a small sliver of understanding between two people to create tolerance and compassion, and we could always do with more compassion in the world.