The Perfect Stranger by P.J. Kavanagh | Thoughts

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Strolling through Paris and visiting Shakespeare & Company I had a look through their second-hand books and was attracted by one in particular: The perfect stranger by P.J. Kavanagh. Although given that everyone is subconsciously judging a book by its cover, I think I was mostly intrigued by the title. A glance on the back of the book revealed this to be a memoir by a poet, documenting his early years spent all over the world, ranging from school time in the UK and Switzerland to an episode in Paris to time spent at the army and working in Oxford, Barcelona and Java. Overall, sounding like a life filled with interesting events and experiences.

As I happened to find a newer version of the book, the author had written a new foreword. Just reading through this I felt strangely connected. He is describing how the book formed itself and that he himself remained more passive than active when writing the book. An interesting feeling that I have come across several times when practising a stream of consciousness. It’s like emptying all the contents in your mind, laying everything out neatly and visibly, creating a piece of art that is made from so many little intricate details that do make sense on their own but need to be observed all at once from a distance to grasp onto something much more meaningful and powerful. 

The thing that struck me the most is how Kavanagh is describing all the people that have had some sort of impact on his life, particularly the female characters. Because most of the time, he isn’t able to recall their names. Whether that is true or not, is another question. Nevertheless, he is able to remember all the details of what they have done and in what way that has shaped him. I think that we often get scared of oblivion, so scared that we can’t let go. But no matter how hard you are holding onto one person, that person might not do the same and there is nothing you can do about it.

One thing that has changed since that book has been written is the invention of Social Media. We are constantly connected. Everyone knows where you are, what you’re doing, who you are with. Likes and comments on Facebook and Instagram, views on Snapchat. You know who has seen it, who is acknowledging your existence and who is refusing to acknowledge you, almost as if you are being obsessed. Social media is leaving such a big digital footprint, it makes it almost impossible to forget someone. In a way, that’s great. You get to stay connected to people without making a big effort. But at the same time it takes a big effort in order to forget people. Mostly, it’s not about wanting to “forget” someone. It’s more so about forgetting the way they have made you feel, releasing all the negative emotions. And it’s healthy to take a break and have a change of perspective before going back and deciding if you believe that someone can bring happiness to your life or if their existence is more draining your positivity.

I guess, in the end it’s not about having people remembering your name. A name is just a name, a random number of letters, an association to make identification easier. However, it is not a description. Many others share the same name, just like many other share the same hair colour or shoe size as you do. It’s an empty description that doesn’t tell anything about who you are.
One lesson I have pulled out of Kavanagh’s memoir is not to focus on making a name for yourself but to focus on making an impact in someone’s life. Inspire them, influence them positively, teach them, make them question their life and choices, keep them on their toes, help them to become a better version of themselves. They don’t need to remember your name. You don’t need credit for doing something like that. You won’t gain anything from them remembering your name, so all that counts is having good intentions and spreading positivity. 

Further, the book is also a reminder that people are selfish. And that you have to be selfish. No matter how attracted you are to someone, how much light they bring to your life and how happy they make you, there is always another side to the coin. When you are not 100% sure of something, making a conscious decision is always the best thing to feel like you are in control of your life. Even if it is going away or taking a break for a while. There is nothing shameful about it, it’s more so something necessary that you need to do if you want to stay true to yourself. Goodbyes, the ones not caused by death, can last forever but do not have and there are always two parties to it. Be selfish and figure out what is best for you, your life and your goals. Figure out what is bringing you happiness, spread those positive vibes and appreciate it. Don’t be scared to reach out. What is there to lose? What is there to win? Don’t overthink it, just do what feels right, nothing is permanent.

The book is also a subtle reminder how life is not meant to be lived in one place. There is a whole world out there to explore and to make unique experiences, to observe how you are managing yourself in different scenarios and settings. And oh, all the things life can throw at you! Sunshine, miracles, unfortunate events. All the places you are visiting and all the people that you are meeting are shaping you in endless and beautiful ways. So all you really can do is to take a deep breath and take it all in, realising that time is relative and that there are always good and better times that accompany those hard and low times. The beauty of life. 

Writing and words are such a beautiful thing. We are writing for people. For other people. To share with them our thoughts and experiences, a small insight into our very own universe, otherwise hidden deep inside our minds. Because at the end, if you manage to read carefully and between the lines, every personal written piece, every article and book is revealing so much about the author. However, this is not to say it is the truth nor a lie. It is the author’s truth, a small part and view of how events have an effect on a human being and how it makes them feel. 

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