Beloved Strangers

Yesterday, because the sun was out, I took Stump, my three-year-old, to a park we don’t often visit. The playground area was overflowing with kids and parents, and so Stump and I were quick to move on. We moved to the sunny field for a while and then Stump pointed to the tennis courts. No one was actually playing tennis. There was just a sunny court, a few puddles, and a little girl, maybe five years old, whose mother was helping her learn to ride a bike. The moment I opened the tennis court gate, the little girl jumped off her bike and ran to us. For a moment I was confused. Was there someone behind us that she knew? Did she mistake my kid for someone else? But I didn’t have too much time to wonder, because she was already standing beside me, tickling the inside of Stump’s hand with her index finger, and Stump was tickling her back. They stood face-to-face. The little girl began tracing Stump’s forehead with her finger, and he reached up to trace hers as well. Their greeting was at once ceremonial and natural, as if they were beings from a faraway planet, one that had an intimate custom for meeting strangers.

The exchange went on for minutes as they stood there exploring each others’ faces, both of them captivated, smiling. The other mom and I stood on the sidelines laughing, not sure exactly what to do or say—I mean what do you do when your child has fallen so suddenly and utterly in love?

Eventually the little girl ushered Stump into the center of the court where she showed him her bike and invited him to check out her handlebar streamers, which were silver and purple and fluttering. She told him where he could stand while she practiced riding, and then after a few laps around the court, her mother told her it was time to go.

“I’m going to a birthday party,” she explained to my son. “Do you want to come too?”

“Yeah,” Stump said.

“That’s nice of you to invite him,” her mother said. “Do you want to tell your new friend goodbye?”

She embraced him. He returned her embrace. She kissed his cheek. He kissed her back. They were quiet and radiant, wide-eyed and giggling. They kissed each other quickly on the lips (the lips!) and then she stepped away and hopped on her bike. “Wow,” said the little girl’s mother. I shook my head in amazement. My eyes were wet and I could not stop laughing. When they were finally out of sight, Stump looked at me and said, “I want to go to that party.”

The night before, because I couldn’t sleep, I had been lying in bed considering the word beloved. I thought about who was beloved in my life, and a row of faces appeared to me. At first they were the faces you would expect—my children, my partner, my brother. But my pre-sleep brain kept going, kept presenting me with rows upon rows like a stadium, concentric circles of beloveds. I saw the faces of family and friends, colleagues and students, people I’d worked with behind a counter in my twenties, friends I’d made in summer camp and then drifted from. My waking brain was skeptical. Really? I asked myself. All of them?  Yes, all of them, my sleep brain replied. And then the rows of beloveds kept expanding until they included everyone on earth. Even Donald Trump? my waking brain asked. Even Donald Trump, sleep brain replied. It made so much sense at the time. Sleep brain took over and I finally drifted off.

There’s this moment in the book Fun Home where the narrator, Alison, is five years old and eating with her father in a diner. A woman—a stranger—walks in wearing a flannel shirt and short hair. She’s delivering boxes on a hand truck. She gets the waiter’s signature and leaves. This is the first butch woman that our narrator has ever seen and she describes the moment this way:

Like a traveler in a foreign country who runs into someone from home—someone they’ve never spoken to, but know by sight—I recognized her with a surge of joy.

When the narrator says “I recognized her,” what she means is that she saw herself in that woman, that the very sight of her opened a door, gave her permission to become a self that she both feared and longed to be (in this case a woman who expresses gender on her own terms). On the next page, the narrator says: “the vision of the truck-driving bulldyke sustained me through the years.”

I keep pausing there. The vision of the bulldyke sustained her. It fed her and kept her alive until a moment in her adult life when she could finally own who she was.

I consider also the “surge of joy” she describes in that moment of recognition, and the surge of joy I felt vicariously for Stump when that young girl greeted him with a wide-open heart. She saw him. He saw her back. Their love filled a tennis court. It filled my whole weekend.

image credit: Sean Connors, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0),



  1. The first lines were really interesting for me. Nice and pleasant. Is it possible if you can check out my blog and comment any recommendations? I am a newcomer and want to learn as much a possible.

  2. Your beautiful story reminded me of a quite similar encounter my then 3-year old daughter experienced on a holiday in Australia. Two kids, two nationalities, two languages. Communication without words. Love doesn’t need all that. Thanks for reminding me. Your piece is absolutely wonderful!

  3. I have an interesting idea for all of us dreamers and deep thinkers.

    I started a new blog called “outsider olympics”. I have always felt like an outsider, and I don’t see it as a bad thing, although I do often wish I could feel a greater sense of belonging. I think we could increase that sense of belonging by collectively connecting to ideas like yours, which can get a lot more interesting from an outsider’s point of view.

    I want to inspire people, to show them how interesting the world can be if you look beyond what we’ve been conditioned to think.

    I think it would be cool to bring the creative people, the misfits and rebels, and the deep thinkers of the world together to celebrate what makes us special and to create something together. I would love to hear from you.

  4. I love that it is too cute! That kind of happened with my cousin.They had a little marrige when they were small.She kissed him on the cheek first! then they held hands ever since.

  5. Hey Jenn. That’s a lovely writing up there.. Big up! I tend to think kids could be the most romantic people on earth.

  6. The best love…one that is swept up in the moment, one that you don’t know gritty details about, one that you don’t need to know the gritty details about, full of passion and spark

  7. Beautiful! The unabashed openness of young ones! Parents need to work hard to help them hold onto to some of that as they grow!

  8. Beautiful – This kind of stories attract my attention. When we observe children we learn a lot about unconditional love and random act of kindness.

  9. This reminds me so much of my daughter. She is 18 months right now and just recognizing the toddler world before her. It is so funny to see her around other toddlers her age. The way they interact is beyond funny! She is getting so big and soaking in so much. I am nervous for her to even get to the age of 3. (lol) For anyone out there read some of my toddler/stay at home mom blogs.

  10. This was a beautiful piece of writing. I am not a usual blogger but i do write when my heart feels the need flow out into words. I feel that the emotion is strong in this one just as they are in many of my writings.

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