Talk to the Stranger Sitting Next to You

We are always on the go. Passing people daily as we drive to wherever we are going. In almost every case, we don’t know the passerby “from Adam,” and yet they are living in our town, or even in our neighborhood. Life is very much like our intersections or roundabouts. We generally stop only long enough so others can keep moving. And a few seconds later, we too, are moving on to our destination.

Sometimes life presents opportunities where you are sitting right next to somebody you have never met. Restaurants, public transit, etc. Flights too are often one of these occasions.

If I forget to tell you, talk to the stranger sitting next to you.

In February 2015, I was returning from a flight overseas and had a layover in Toronto, Canada. However, due to a snowstorm, my final flight to Cleveland was cancelled, so I had to stay over in a hotel. The next morning, the weather was still quite bad, but I got booked on a fight to Cleveland.

It was a small airplane. Three, maybe four, seats wide. I was on the window seat, and got there when the seat next to me was empty. Maybe it’s just me, but there is always a little nervous expectation of who will sit beside me. Within a few minutes a gentleman sat down next to me. I had learned many years prior to always engage people sitting next to me. I have discovered fascinating lives and learned much about humanity. For instance, I vividly remember speaking at length to a lady who was a nurse who had just come from Eastern Congo (we were flying from Nairobi to Europe) and the stories of suffering and rape that she expressed were incredibly saddening. That one flight made it more real for me than any 20 news stories.

But back to my flight in Toronto. The man who sat next to me was incredibly kind and engaging. He had very broad experiences and we shared both a love of horticulture and had both traveled to Africa. We talked for what ended up being hours. Since the weather was still bad, we sat on the tarmac for a very long time. It was supposed to be a quick flight, but it took many hours. This would have been one of those flights where frustration built, and impatience reigned. But the time passed quickly with the engrossing discussion. I learned much. He talked about how at one point he worked for Windsor Castle and that he was interviewed by the Queen as the last part of the interview process. A very interesting man that, at that time, expanded my horizons to the many good people who live in this world.

A year and a half later, I wrote a brief note to him, expressing some of my gratitude for our discussion. He, likewise, was appreciative of my comments.

In truth, I believe, there is a connection and a bond there that will last a lifetime. I believe we will meet again one day. All this from just one discussion.

Every time you sit next to a stranger, you have an awesome opportunity to learn about a new world. A world other than your own. Engage and ask thoughtful questions. You will be thankful you did. You will wish you were in bad weather and were delayed for hours stuck on the tarmac.

If I forget to tell you, talk to the stranger sitting next to you.