When we were kids, making friends was easy. I remember going to a park, a birthday party, or a McDonald’s Play Place and getting excited when I saw other kids there, not because I saw someone I knew, but because it meant I would have people to spend time with. Now, as an adult, I look around and see people actively avoiding conversation, habitually choosing self check-out, using a phone as a barrier, and plugging their ears full of music as to indicate disinterest. By no means am I above any of this, and in fact I believe that I myself am as much of a culprit as anyone. It’s so easy to shut people out, to not think of the person walking toward you on the street as leading a life as interesting as your own. And why even bother? Chances are that they are just one of the millions of people on this earth that will pass you and never see you again.
To piggyback off of my previous post about flying, I want to offer another piece of advice when it comes to sitting on an airplane, or a train, or a bus, or anything for that matter. Talk to the person next to you. I’ve been told that I get very lucky with the people who happen to cross paths with me, and I’d like to share some of their stories as they have with me.
Nicolas is a business man and a father to a 14-year-old girl who he refers to as “mi vida” (my life). He is from Barcelona, but he flies every single weekend to Sevilla, Oviedo, Grenada, and any place you can imagine in Spain for business. If you want to know where to go in Spain, talk to him. His knowledge of Barcelona alone was abundant, and he took the time to pull up a map of the city, teach me where each neighborhood was, where the public transit was, and where all the best places to go were. He ended our brief interaction by giving me his contact info just in case I needed any recommendations, and by then pointing me to the Burger King. Not because I am American, as he claimed, but because I’m in college and must be broke.
Bernard was working for the French military on nuclear reactors when he got stationed in Peru. There he met a Quechua woman (who’s name unfortunately escapes me) and he fell madly in love with her. He learned Spanish in order to communicate with her as she learned French for him. His two year deployment turned into three, and then four, until finally they got married. Now, both middle aged and tired after their recent adventure together to Patagonia and Buenos Air es, they’re returning once again to France where Bernard will work teaching high school chemistry.
Theo owns a Martin guitar, just like I do, although it’s the smaller model. He’s 26 years old and he is currently on his way to Colombia. While working in Copenhagen as an IT technician, he happened to meet this Colombian woman studying abroad. They dated for a bit, but when it was time for her to go they went their separate ways. He said he thought about her all the time, and eventually he called her up and told her he was going to Colombia to see her. He said she was so happy she cried. They spent three months in Colombia together, then six in Paris, and now he’s going back to Colombia again to be with her and try to get her a visa to come live in Paris with him. Ironically, I am the second person he knows from Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. And even more ironic is that when I was in France with my friend from high school, we visited Theo’s hometown of Annecy. At the end of the flight, I shook his hand and wished him luck with his life.
Every day, millions of people with interesting stories to tell cross our paths without us ever knowing. And no, not everyone is going to stay in your life forever, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t appreciate the little moments as they come. As kids, we all knew this. We were all perfectly happy with making friends for the day that we would never see again, and probably never even remember. And I can’t say that I’m going to even remember these people now, or that they’re even going to remember me. But what I can say is that it’s amazing what you learn about the people around you when you lose your headphones, you don’t have WiFi, and you decide, out of boredom, to just say hi. I do think I get lucky with the people who cross my path every day, but I also believe that we make our own luck.