I skim headlines in several online publications, and sometimes what I find hidden away among celebrity mongering and the latest diet fad simply astounds me. This New York Times article tells of a woman who lived a quiet life as a Wall Street stock analyst. One of the millions of people in huge cities all over the world going about mundane lives in utter anonymity. Some fall into it by happenstance, some choose it, and others carry out a hybrid existance. One where the simple and the extraordinary collide in a secret world of perhaps drab present colored by vivid past.

This unobtrusive stock analyst had once been a Transylvanian countess with a rich and dramatic background that brings to mind the fictitious events novelist Thomas Harris wove into the early history of his famous character Hannibal Lecter, mixed with real life Nazi intrigue, and enough tragedy to fuel a 21st century Shakespeare’s thirst for life shaking drama. A hidden past lurking just beneath a veneer of average with an overlay of who would have thought….

I’ve always loved the anonymity of great cities, where every single day anyone but the most popular public figure can be entirely themselves without worrying about perceptions of others. Those others will be entirely others the next day. Strangers in the even stranger wider world they walk through. Yet, any one of those strangers might literally be anyone. Every footstep carrying a different story in living form.

Yet I must admit it never occurred to me that one of those strangers I walked past on a Manhattan street once upon a time could have lived another life so long ago it was but a fading memory. A memory where a little girl who once lived in a castle was later so exiled that she lacked proper shoes and curtains became dresses like Scarlet O’Hara’s in her own tragic, but mercifully make believe Civil War torn world.

The thing about the anonymity of the masses is that we all become a single passing set of features in a sea of faces. It’s almost all surface. We see the coats and hairstyles in the same way we take in a group of fish in an aquarium–Look! That one has stripes! This one looks like Dory! Can we get ice cream now?

The moment is gone. The pretty purple coat and the wild multicolored Mohawk are down the block, across the street, completely out of our moving plane of existance, before we ever pause to wonder who they are and where they’re going. More crucially it never occurs to us to wonder where they’ve been. Who they’ve been.

After reading this article I know I’ll pay more attention. It’s humbling to be reminded that for all the excitement I might feel if I spotted the Duchess of Cambridge on a London street, the little old lady in a tweed skirt and wellies walking a grizzled poodle might once have lived in castle. And so might a nondescript woman in a business suit, striding briskly away from a glorious life of could have been that was her destiny.