It’s no secret to anyone who knows me that I love connecting with people. I often find myself chatting with a random stranger and, while the conversations sometimes provide only a momentary pause in my day, the warm feelings brought about by a shared smile and a brief sense of connection tend to remain for a while.
But occasionally the encounter lasts a little longer and the connection is deeper. I had one of these chance meetings a few days ago, and thoughts of it have been warming my heart ever since. I’ve referred to it as an “unexpected bonus” in my week, and I’ve thought about how easily I could have missed out on the opportunity.
I was at a neighborhood café, a popular spot for people of all ages to gather with friends, meet with professional contacts, or connect to the Wi-Fi and set up a temporary workspace. The August morning was sunny, breezy, and far less humid than is typical for summertime in the DC area, so customers were enjoying the patio seating. As my colleague and I were wrapping up our meeting, an older gentleman approached us to ask a favor. He apologized for interrupting but explained that he and his friends, seated at the table next to ours, had outgrown their space. They wanted to combine two tables and were wondering whether we would mind moving to the empty one on the other side of us. I quickly told him that, of course, he was welcome to take over our space.
Despite my assurances that we’d been on our way out, he apologized profusely while his friends teasingly admonished him for chasing us away. Intertwined with the apologies were invitations to grab a cup of coffee and join them. As my companion rushed off to another meeting, I reconsidered whether I really needed to leave. The jovial group seemed to be genuine in their insistence that they’d love for me to join them, so I went inside for a refill and returned to the table, telling them I’d decided to take them up on their kind offer.
Any doubts I’d had about the sincerity of their invitation were immediately alleviated. They quickly cleared a “seat of honor” in the middle of the table for me and began introducing themselves. I learned that many of them have been friends for decades while others were newer to the group, but their common link is that they all immigrated to the US from Israel. They’ve retired from a variety of illustrious careers – the group of seven included world-renowned scientists, marine engineers, and attorneys. Their standing, weekly coffee date provides them an opportunity not only to stay up-to-date on one another’s lives, but also to discuss current events, politics, societal changes, and a host of other issues. They stressed that, although they don’t all see eye to eye, their conversations are always respectful.
They were excited to tell me about themselves but were just as eager to learn about me. They asked about my life, my family and my work, and seemed genuinely interested in everything I shared. It’s not uncommon for conversations to feel a bit unbalanced, where one person does most of the talking and the other takes on the role of “listener,” and it was refreshing that this wasn’t the case — everyone was equally engaged. My new friends seemed fascinated to learn that I’m a life coach and asked about the history of the coaching field and about my specialty area. We went on to have an honest and thought-provoking conversation about generational differences and how our adult children’s life experiences have impacted their receptiveness to our points of view. I found their thoughts to be incredibly interesting, and they appreciated the insight I offered.
So it’s great that I had this really nice encounter, but why did I feel compelled to write about it? Three reasons… The first is because it was just such a nice reminder that there are really wonderful people all around us, and that taking a little time to connect with them and learn a bit of their history can create a win-win situation where everyone walks away smiling. As humans, we all share a basic need to feel seen, heard, and valued. When we help someone recognize that they matter, we’ve done something really important – something that affirms that we’re making a difference and that we’re valuable too. The giving and receiving are completely intertwined.
The second reason is that it’s interesting to think about how many things had to fall into place in order for this chance meeting to occur… I happened to be at the same café at the same time as the group of friends, my colleague happened to choose a table that ended up being next to theirs, we hadn’t yet left when they outgrew their space, they went out of their way to offer an invitation, and after initially declining, I changed my mind and chose to join them. Different decisions at any point could have resulted in a missed opportunity for connection. (Of course, that may have resulted in a different encounter, but I’d rather focus on what actually happened.) Thinking about all of the stars that needed to align makes me appreciate the encounter that much more.
The third reason is that, before I left the impromptu coffee conversation, the gentlemen asked me for my business cards. I’m hoping they’ll visit my site, read these words, and learn how much our encounter meant to me.
Wishing you unexpected opportunities for meaningful connection,