My wife and I celebrate 12 years of marriage this month. We realized through random conversation that we once attended the same house party nearly a year before we met. There couldn’t have been 50 people there, and two of them were us. What I wouldn’t give to go back and give that even skinnier 19-year-old version of myself a tip that the love of his life/mother of his children was on the other side of the room somewhere…
My current boss and I discovered today that we were once at the same Replacements reunion show a long time before he chose to employ me.
I met a guy last week who told me he had texted a mutual acquaintance of ours that he had just started working with only to find out there was a conversation between the two of them already on his phone – from years before when their paths crossed doing separate side projects.
And this phenomenon isn’t just a product of a certain town or geographical area.
On vacation in Jamaica, I met a couple in the pool who lived their normal lives less than a mile from me and shopped at the same grocery.
I even saw a girl walking in my neighborhood once who was wearing a shirt from the state where I grew up 600 miles away. Turns out that we weren’t just from the same state. We’d lived in the same town and gone to the same high school at the same time. But I swear I’d never seen her before.
You have these stories, too. Everybody does. There is a ride at Disney World that sings the refrain over and over. It is, in fact, a very small world.
Yet sometimes it is easier to live like it isn’t.
Be grumpy in line, rude on the phone. Shortchange and long-play and mutter under breath. Shout at strangers from the car.
Our baser instincts push us to act like each day might be the end and we need to get what we want while we can. Forget everyone else. Especially if we don’t recognize them.
But the truth is, we need each other – even when we barely know each other.
Years ago, I met a guy while were both in Seattle for training. Months later I had flown into his hometown of Atlanta on a different work trip and I looked him up. He was happy to show me his office and take me to lunch, but as we walked to his car, I received a phone call that would change my life. A death had taken place. I was among the first to know. I had a lot of people to call and dominos to keep from collapsing.
It was a strange situation to be in and Will was a strange person to have to help me handle that news. Save a few West Coast beers we had shared, we were barely more than strangers. But that didn’t matter to this guy. As I removed the phone from my ear and told him, shocked, what I had just heard, he immediately helped me make a plan. He got me to where I needed to go, no questions asked. There wasn’t much small talk to fill the air. We mostly rode in silence. But I have rarely ever felt more propped up and propelled by a person than I did by him that cloudy Georgia morning.
So it may be time to create a new perspective when it comes to the way you look at people. That guy next to you this morning at the Starbucks or pumping gas one lane over? The dude with the sign at the intersection or the suit presenting at the corporate shareholders meeting this afternoon? Any one of them could be your future neighbor, long-lost friend or just a guy who needs a ride to the airport.
Treat him like a stranger or choose to treat him as another person (just like you) who is holding on for dear life to this tiny, tiny earth as it spins madly along.