That is probably one of the worst pieces of advice handed down from our parents.
Yeah, they meant well, but over the years we’ve learned how to keep our eyes down…Don’t make eye contact, if I don’t look they won’t see me.
Yet we all want to be seen.
Months ago, I injured myself in a joyous leap (really, I tore my calf muscle in excitement). After weeks of frustration hobbling around slowly, I stopped to contemplate what the universe could be telling me.
Slow down. Find this moment. See people.
In our hurried rush to get about our days, the joy that the momentary connection with another human, someone who is equalized in their similar fears and dreams misses us. We move too quick and judge too harsh.
Taking my time to limp about the city, the compassion I have found in others and their willingness, no their starvation, to engage was apparent. Like dry roots absorb water, when I took a slow enough look to find it, hands easily reached out. Doors swung open. Smiles rang forward. It was like the first time they’d been seen all day.
By reaching outward, we invite surprising gifts. Not everyone summons the courage to break down the invisible barrier, but we can take the first step.
On a trip back from Costa Rica last winter, I connected through Houston. I found myself sitting across from a gorgeous man with piercing blue eyes. In my faded make-up, travel clothes, weary-eyed, hair-in-bun state, the last thing I wanted was small-talk with a guy. I sat submerged in the snowy Packers game playing above. I glanced across and made eye contact just long enough to muster a quick smile.
“You live in Seattle?”
I nod and quickly look back to the screen.
Again I nod mumbling, “I’m a Hawks fan, but the Packers are my second team.”
As he prompts me into my reasons for my Costa Rican trip; my desire to write, love for Husky sports and travel, and deep burn to build something quickly emerge. How interesting we got to this depth of conversation so fast, I think to myself.
As I’m called to board, a “It was nice to meet you, have a safe flight” later, and I dash onto the plane.
Something inside of me said to reach out. I was struck by the intense conversation and instant connection. As he walks by my seat, we smile and I thrust my card outward.
“Keep in touch” was all my tired brain could deliver.
One day and an email later, we were set to meet for a basketball game.
There is no ending to this story that we dated for months and had enchanting times. No, I did not meet my Prince Charming. We had an enjoyable afternoon of sports, cheering, and playful banter. We followed with an evening of drinks, dinner, and long gazes. A kiss goodnight and I never saw him again.
His life was to take him to another country (a theme I was well aware of in my past) and pursuing anything other than friendship was never to be.
But for that moment, we danced.
These brief moments in time, strung together, creating what we can fondly look back on as memories, bring new connection into our lives that forever touch us. An imprint, and occasionally… A possibility.
In my very traveled life, the incredible people I have met by asking the man about the book he was reading, offering the guy my expertise of beer and helping him choose, asking the girl to lunch who walked up and said she liked my purse…You could have called these chance meetings or serendipity. I call it my willingness to engage with strangers.
These romances, these friends, these opportunities have now woven into my life as lasting threads… My own butterfly effect.
As I catch myself walking unaware through downtown to work each day, I fight it. My own urge to isolate, to look down, to avoid unfamiliarity pulls me. What happens when we don’t let it? When we reach out a hand, gift a smile, twinkle an eye, and embrace connection…
Friendship? Warmth? Love?… Magic?
Or maybe we just make someone’s day brighter.
It’s time we talk to strangers.