I’m not really the kind of girl who chats with strangers.
In fact, I tend to avoid them. At the gym or on an airplane, I’m the chick who gives you a smile as she’s putting on her headphones and cranking up the music.
Because I’m sure you’re really nice, but I’m not looking to make any new friends. And I don’t really want to end up in a political debate with you, or talk about the Kardashians, or hear about why your chick lit book is totally enthralling and I have to read it.
I’ve always been kind of a snob when it comes to strangers. But I think I’m a changed woman.
Which made me think back to last December, when I was on a very emotional and nerve-wracking trip to the same destination. And if it weren’t for the kindness of a few strangers, I’m not sure what I would have done.
Strangers in the Night
We had just gotten the phone call the night before–my husband’s mother had taken her own life. We were devastated. And in shock. I put my husband, his sister and his dad on the next flight out the next morning, and I told them I’d be on the next flight out the following day. I had to find someone to watch our dog, and we had houseguests coming to stay that had to be tended to.
The next day, weather was horrific. Flights were delayed out of SFO, and I was so panicked about missing my connection that I literally ran through the airport hugging my luggage. I arrived at the gate a bedraggled mess, with my heart in my throat, only to find that my connection had been canceled. I was heartbroken.
I found an outlet to charge my phone and figure out my next steps.”Can I share that outlet with you?” asked a pretty young bohemian. “Sure,” I said, and she plopped down next to me.
My guard was down, and before I could put my headphones on, she struck up a conversation. Turned out she was headed to the same tiny town as me. She noticed my bracelet and when I told her I’d made it in a recent jewelry making class where I learned how to solder silver, she said, “No way! I’m a jeweler!”
By the end of that day, we had become Facebook friends and found we had a lot more in common than just jewelry.
My hellish day continued; I waited in the airport for more than 7 hours, hoping someone would help me get on any northbound flight. I found a little wine bar inside the terminal, and pulled up a stool to drown (or heavily douse) my sorrows. I ended up making conversation with an older gentleman next to me. He was a podiatrist from southern California. I learned that he had left his first wife after many years of marriage, to marry a younger woman whom he now had twin 4-year-old daughters with. “Life’s pretty complicated,” he told me. I couldn’t agree more.
In the shuttle on the way to the crappy hotel the airline put me up in for the night, to wait for my flight out the next morning, the nicest lady chatted me up. At first we were venting to each other about the lackluster accommodations, but soon she inquired why I was traveling, and when I told her, she teared up. “Everything will be ok,” she said. “You’ll see.”
Then on my connecting flight, I found myself next to a sweet and lovely woman who felt like chatting. She started it. An hour later, we were both in tears. After I told her my story, she revealed that her own mother-in-law had been struggling with depression, and she and her husband were extremely concerned. When she learned what had happened in our family, I think she was inspired to have a surely awkward conversation with her husband, to ensure that his mom was really okay.
It’s funny but, if I hadn’t met those kind people on that horrible journey, I don’t know what I would have done. I was so distraught, so stressed out, and so emotional, that I had no resistance to their charity. Now, just last week, my husband, his sister and me all traveled north again.
The Kindness of Strangers
It’s been a year since Mandy left us, and we wanted to go back to take care of some business and visit some friends. Once again—weather delays. We missed our connection out of San Francisco again. Back to the same wine bar.
“Mind if we share your space?” I asked her. “Not at all,” she said with a smile. A few minutes later, she struck up the conversation with all three of us. Turns out she’s a landscape designer, specializing in exactly the kind of drought-tolerant designs we’ve been looking to switch over to for our front yard. What are the chances?
She’s also a singer/songwriter, and when she found out both my husband and I have attempted to learn how to play the guitar in the past, she jumped on it. “Promise me you’ll take a class and at least try again. It’s so worth it,” she said. I promised. Now I have to.
A couple days later, my husband sat in our favorite bagel shop, and I admired the paintings on the wall beside us. A woman with a purple jacket and a kind face leaned over me. “May I put this behind you?” she asked. “Sure,” I said. “Are you the artist?”
Twenty minutes later, she was seated at our table and the three of us were deep in discussion about the pursuit of a creative life. I learned so much from her. She paints with her non-dominant hand to “keep it interesting.” She travels all over the world with her sketchbooks and her camera and comes home to paint. A teacher and art therapist for 40 years, she recently cut her finger while preparing for the show we were seeing. “I wasn’t going to let it stop me,” she told us. “You know, this isn’t my bread, it’s my roses.”
I love that so much. She’s so right, you have to be careful turning what you love into what you do.
She also told me that by sharing the story of my own pursuit of a more creative life, I would create a ripple effect that would lift others up.
Wow. I can only hope that’s true. And in the meantime, what I do know for sure is that these kind people and their stories lifted me up, and really made me think about how the universe is a crazy, connected, and even kind place.
Maybe I should take the headphones off. For good.