The Randomness of Strangers

The meeting of strangers. Is it happenstance? Serendipity? Coincidence? Fate?

I used to not really think about it, but as I age and reflect more, I think the randomness of strangers isn’t, well, as random as I once thought.

There are people I’ve met that for whatever reason remain in my life. There are those who I’ve spent some time with but have now vanished from my everyday life. And there are those that I may have only had a “moment” with, but something about that particular encounter remained with me over the years.

Upon further reflection, I now know that these people – all of them – crossed paths with me for a reason. It wasn’t happenstance, and I don’t think it was the unintended luck packaged as serendipity. That leaves coincidence or fate. Perhaps that choice now comes down to personal beliefs. Either one, however, removes the “randomness of strangers.”

Though I could go on and on about the people who I’ve spent quality time with, for now, I’d like to focus on those with whom I shared only a brief convergence. Finding “the reason” for their encounter is a much harder task, yet one that should be explored.
For instance, there was the man I met briefly years ago when the two of us worked as “extras” on a movie filmed in Chicago. He was about 10 years younger than me, confident and carefree. In one twenty-minute conversation, he said something to me – unbeknownst to him – that changed the way that I would forever think about myself. For the better. Our “scene” ended, and I never saw him again, but I am grateful for what he taught me, no gave me: confidence and freedom.

Then, there was the business woman on an American Airlines flight from Washington, D.C. to Chicago about 12 years ago. Mid 40’s, polished, purposeful, interesting. Our conversation was perhaps 2 hours long, yet, somehow she made me aware of two things: always be prepared for intelligent, meaningful conversation and do things that make you an interesting person. I felt I barely “passed” our conversation, but I cringed at the thought of what my possible responses could have been: “No, I didn’t know that,” “Never heard that,” “Don’t know what you mean,” “Never tried that.”

My favorite, though, was the retired grandmother who hiked just ahead of me on the Upper Emerald Pool Trail in Zion National Park. It was mid-day, July, in southwestern Utah. Needless to say, it was HOT. The woman was in her early 70’s perhaps, hiking up a short, yet steep, rocky terrain. She was sweating, huffing, and she occasionally pulled off to the side. I remember thinking how great it was that she was even attempting this. I passed her reluctantly and pulled for her to make it all the way to the pool. When I reached the pool and cooled in the mist, I found myself waiting for her. When she arrived, I wanted to “check on her” to make sure she was okay. She was fairly old for this steep hike, and she was struggling. Well, so I thought. After conversing with her for a bit, I came to learn that this same “elderly” hiker had already climbed to the top of Angel’s Landing, which is NOT a hike for the faint of heart! In fact, this younger, conditioned hiker was never close to being brave enough to even consider it! If that wasn’t enough, she told me her hiking partner was her 10 year old grandson. Yes, that retired school teacher taught me that age is not what limits us. We are what limits us!

These are but a few examples of the many chance encounters I’ve experienced over the years. Whatever you call them – happenstance, serendipity, coincidence, or fate – it doesn’t really matter. I guess I’m just grateful for the randomness of strangers, and all of the lessons they taught me!