Meeting Fellow Cruise Passengers
Thelma was one of 3,000 or so passengers on my recent Caribbean cruise ship. I will forget all the others, but I will never forget this dear woman.
People on Cruises
It's very easy to make friends on a cruise ship. Elevators are filled with chatty strangers and dining rooms are filled with shared tables. But I boarded the ship, eager to spend time with my family and read books. I wasn't in the mood to be social...until I spotted Thelma.
We were doing a little celebrating in the Martini Bar when I first noticed Thelma. She sat alone (blocked by our waiter) with an untouched glass of wine, wearing a glittery green dress. She looked so quiet and dignified. Or did she look worried? I couldn't stop wondering why she was alone.
Then I noticed a young man in a white cruise uniform enter the bar and head directly for Thelma's table. He kissed her cheek and she beamed. He squatted beside her and they chatted for a while before he rushed off. I wondered if he was her son and she rode the ship to be near him. But after a while Thelma was surrounded by other uniformed fans who greeted her with hugs and lingered for brief conversations. I waited until she was alone and then greeted Thelma myself. "What's your trick?" I wanted to know. "I noticed you're getting lots of hugs from men in uniform!" Thelma seemed delighted with my question and leaned in to share her news. "I know everyone who works on this ship... this is my 115th cruise on Princess Cruise Lines!" After I gasped at the news, Thelma followed with the humble remark, "But I'm not the top cruiser on this trip. There's someone who has me outnumbered." I was dizzy with the thought of endless cruising. While Thelma chatted about port stops and cruise tips...and how much she liked my dress, I tried to do the math to figure out how much of Thelma's life might be spent cruising. But before long it was time for our dinner reservation. I introduced my family to Thelma and we were off, without a chance to ask all the questions I really wanted to ask.
I'm glad I got to share a cruise ship with you. I could picture you wearing a crown. The Princess.... or even The Queen of Princess Cruises!
We saw you on other nights, sitting at your same spot. I didn't want to stalk or bombard you with more questions, but I rarely wonder so much about a stranger. When was your first cruise? Do you always travel alone? Do you get lonely? How do you make each trip special? What do you do during the day? Is it sad when you go home? Do you have a home? Don't you get tired of cruises? What do you love best...least? What's the craziest thing you've witnessed on a cruise? Saddest? Scariest?
I could have asked you those questions, and more. But I think I preferred just guessing the answers. Sometimes the mystery is a better memory.
To celebrate my birthday in April 2012, I decided to reflect on the past with a different kind of list. I've met a lot of people in my 55 years, but I'm going to stop and remind myself about the strangers I've met. These are people I met by accident, not through friends or work. For some reason, these strangers dropped into my life. Even though we may have only spent a few minutes together, these people have never been forgotten.
Each week, I'll spotlight someone I met in the past, who in some small way, made me stop and think.
Remember 55 Strangers