What You Can Learn from Chance Encounters
In college, I would get very excited when I saw a dog or a child. Living in the microcosmic bubble of students around the same age as myself, these rare sightings reminded me of the larger world. Today, I walk among people of all ages and dogs of all varieties. People of different perspectives are all around me. Because of this, I sometimes take diverse viewpoints for granted. I forget to reap the benefits of talking with a child about their eventful day on the swingset, or stop to pet a dog. I have recently been reminded of the importance of these moments through a few chance encounters.
After a long day at work, I begrudgingly made my way to the mechanic to finally get a funky car sound checked. Knowing I may be waiting for some time, I brought my laptop and planner to get some work done. Before diving back into work, I got distracted on my phone, catching up on texts, emails, and notifications. An older gentleman, the only other person in the waiting area, attempted to start a conversation by saying, “I got my daughter one of those things. She just stares at it all the time.” Wishing for some privacy and perhaps a small window of silence, I gave him a dismissive smile and replied, “just catching up on some emails.” A few beats of semi-quietness later, he tries again: “I have one of those iPhones, too, but you know what? I like this one much better.” He pulls out a flip phone. This guy wasn’t giving up.
Mere minutes later, I feel as though I know his whole life story: he has owned 25 cars in his lifetime, the Chevrolet Spark is his favorite, his daughter started living with him at age 15 after losing her mom, he made his money working in some capacity with an airport, he works with the daughter of someone-whose-name-I-should-have-recognized-and-been-impressed-by and helps her deal with her fortune, and his greatest achievement is driving his mother cross country to California (bonus: he firmly believes a mother’s love is the only unconditional one out there). Okay, I’ll bite.
Despite my desire to be productive and quiet, I allowed myself a moment to listen. Several minutes later, and I was able to gain a few nuggets of wisdom from this man. His genuine need to be heard was warranted, as I walked away with new insights. Though nothing was entirely new, hearing simple reminders from an older person made them somewhat fresh. I was reminded that life flies by, that stressing out about things out of your control only lengthens the misery, and that being there for other people is a mutually beneficial practice.
At another point in my week, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in many months. The short conversation, allowing us to catch up on the major highlights of each others lives, reminded me that friends are all around us. As she told me of her job applications, I commiserated and encouraged. As I answered her sincere questions, we both were able to share a laugh before we moved on with our day.
Sometimes, something as simple as a smile shared in passing or a genuine “how are you?” can improve a day. I was reminded this week of the gift of chance encounters, and inspired to make it a resolution to become more open to conversations and new interactions. Who knows what I can walk away with?
[Photo by Julie Bloom.]
Windrose is a collection of stories—stories that echo this one simple truth: you are not alone as you navigate life in your twenties.
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