A friend recently shared this article on the Benefits of Talking to Strangers. I am not an extrovert but I do find the synergies and wonder of talking to people I pass in the world one of the joys of life. I’m missing these causal connections in community during the pandemic. Yet, I’m holding on to the theory of six degrees of separation. The idea of six degrees of separation is that anyone in the planet can be connected to anyone else in just six steps. More simply put, if I’m willing to talk with a willing stranger, we often find something in common. Friends, location, education, travel….anything is possible once you engage with a willing stranger.
Yet, masks, 6 feet distance, and friend/family pods are making this challenging, but not impossible. Like the author, I too have engaged with some of my neighbors I’ve never met before as we have walked circles around our complex since March. It takes a little courage to engage with a stranger but sometimes remarkable things happen. Even when wearing a mask, sunglasses and bike helmet.
Consider a pre-pandemic example of talking to a stranger.
Last December, I was finishing work in downtown Los Angeles on one of those busy Friday afternoons before the holidays. People were rushing to get to office parties, arriving and leaving hotels, waiting for Lyft drivers, and generally moving fast. I was standing on the sidewalk waiting for the dreaded drive to LAX airport and watching the chaos.
As I turned there was an older gentleman sitting down with a black suit, a red flower, and a huge smile on his face. He looked friendly so I turned to him and said…”Where are you heading?” He said he was waiting for his riders. We chatted a bit and noticed how everyone was rushing around us. He looked at me and all of the sudden started singing a hymn. A hymn of connection. I stared into his big brown eyes as he sang to me and then I joined him; amidst the noise we were singing together. Two strangers…singing in front of the downtown Westin Hotel in Los Angeles.
We finished the hymn and then both our phones went off. I turned to him and said…”My Lyft driver is running late”, he replied, “my riders are late”. We stared off at the gridlocked street. I then turned to him and with a big breath started singing Amazing Grace. He joined me and we sang all four verses. In that moment we connected and I’ll never forget him.
We celebrated a moment of joy amidst the frenzy of cars and people. As my Lyft car drove up I said to him “thank you so much that was the best part of my day”. I waved as I got in my car with my heart lifted to welcoming this stranger into my life.
In these times, it’s easy to not welcome a stranger into our lives. The pandemic has made us fearful of casual connection. Masks hide our smiles and eyes. Yet, with just a little nudge, maybe a friendly smile or a twinkle in the eye, amazing things can happen. Even in a pandemic.
It could very well be the best part of your day.