When I was younger I can remember my dad always telling us this story about a woman on a train. She was rude: snapping at people who tried to sit by her and making snide remarks under her breath. Everyone was appalled by her behavior. Later, the woman opened up and shared that she was on her way to see her mother, who was dying of a terminal illness. She was scared and hurting, and was taking it out on everyone around her. Moral of the story: "Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" Plato
That story comes sneaking back into my mind at the most opportune times. It reminds me to take a step back and practice loving kindness even when others don't seem to be doing the same. It reminds me of the importance of human interaction and connection.
Fast forward 20 years from when my dad first told me that story. I was waiting in the downtown Chicago Amtrak station for my train that was delayed. I was annoyed and I was exhausted from spending the last few days at a conference. I just wanted to get back home to my husband. An older woman sat down next to me on the hard, tile floor of the Amtrak station and starting talking my ear off about a fish fry that she was headed to the following day. I don' t like fish and I also don't like it when my travel plans don't go according to schedule. I could care less about the fish fry she was talking about endlessly.
I pretended to be super absorbed in the book I was reading and hoped she would take the hint. Nope. She kept talking. I then remembered the story that my dad told us when we were little, and how ignoring this woman was not going to change the fact that my train was delayed. I was letting something that was bothering me, effect how I was treating this stranger. I put down my book, smiled at her, and decided to engage in the conversation. After about 20 minutes of listening, I had learned a lot about this woman. Additionally, a pigeon had also made it's way into the train station so we were getting a good laugh watching it walk around and eating french fries off the ground - with no regard to that fact that it was indoors now. I was having fun and the time was going by much faster than if I would have continued to ignore her.
The following day when I was home and settled in for the weekend, I got a text message from the woman. We had exchanged contact information because she wanted to text me the name of the fish fry when she remembered it. A stranger, who had no reason to follow through with her promise to text me, did. And I must to admit, her text message made me smile.
I'll probably never see that woman again but for the two hours that we spent together on the cold floor of the Amtrak station, we were connected. How often do we pass by one another without stopping to engage? How often do we make assumptions about others without knowing what is really going on in their lives?
The next time I am tempted to shut someone out simply because I don't feel like making conversation, I'll think twice. That's what life is all about for me: connection. I don't want to miss any of it. And plus, now I have the name of a fish fry to go to in case I ever decide I'm in the mood for such an event.