A couple of days ago I flew to Colorado to visit my son. When I arrived at my home airport I saw long lines in front of the counter of the airlines I was flying. My first thought was this flight was going to be a hassle. It turned out the lines were backed up from another airline. Although storms had caused all sorts of cancellations to the east, those going westward as I was were unaffected. The journey started well.
Once on board in my aisle seat I was soon joined by a late 20-something young woman in the window seat beside me. She was attractive in an unaffected way and dressed simply in jeans. She seemed happy, smiled a lot and stuck up a conversation with me. In a pleasant conversation I learned she was married and had two children: one a 12-year old stepson and another 7-year old son she and her husband had together. They lived in Denver and she was returning after visiting family in Tulsa. Prior to takeoff we talked for about five minutes before the flight attendant moved some people around for weight and balance on the small commuter jet and she was one of them. For those few minutes we really did relate to each other as we talked about our families and reasons for our trips. And for that short while she became another on my list of “temporary friends”. I am grateful to have the conversation logged away with the beaming face of a happy young woman stored with it.
When interacting with strangers most often all that happens is the waitress or guy at the checkout goes by the script of the customary things they are supposed to say. Or the person sitting beside you is mentally somewhere else and in 90 minutes speaks only 10 words: hello, how are you, fine, excuse me please and thank you . Outside of the mechanical, necessary word exchange nothing of meaning is spoken and little if any part of the encounter gets logged to memory. There have been other times on a flight or similar situation where I have had a seat next to someone who drones on and on speaking lots of words and saying next to nothing. I rarely retain any memory of these non-connections except possibly in a negative sense.
There are also those unique and rare times when real connections happen. Maybe with a waiter for a minute where there is real eye contact and interpersonal interaction. These I think of as “momentary friends”. Or once in a while on an airplane two compatible complete strangers find connection and the minutes float away without awareness as a “temporary friendship” is enjoyed.
I recall the 80-something gentleman who I talked with for three hours on a flight to California. I was flying out for a job interview and found out he had relocated for his work quite a few times. As I was considering a move, I asked was all the moving worth it. He said something like “Yes, at the time. But looking back now it really wasn’t worth it”. I have reflected on his statment and his following explanation several times when presented with job prospects that required moving. It helped.
In clear memory is an hour of conversation with the woman in the next seat that resulted in a still practiced long distance friendship. Through emails from time to time we still stay in touch although we met on a flight 15 years ago.
And there was the software consultant from Norfolk who was a wood carver, the grandmother from Atlanta who knitted as we talked, the retired NASA worker from Florida who knew the first crop of Astronauts, the college aged newly weds sunburned and giddy from their Cayman honeymoon, the anthropologist who was coming home to see his family after several years in Africa, the dentist from Cleveland flying to Dallas for Superbowl week, the business executive from New York City who talked about her love of horses, the flight attendant returning home to Denver who was excited about both her children coming home for Christmas and all the other “temporary friends” who don’t immediately come to mind at the moment. To each and every one, I am grateful for the small threads you became within the fabric of my life. Thank you all for giving me that little piece of yourself.
There are no such things as strangers, only friends we have not met. William Butler Yeats