This morning I was hanging out in San Francisco with some out of town friends. There were five of us and we’d just had breakfast at a fun place called Boogaloos. I’d been a few minutes late getting to the restaurant because the BART train was running behind. After the train made its stop, as I was rushing up the stairs to the turnstile to exit the station, the woman’s hair in front of me caught my eye. It was this beautiful cotton-candy pink with some swirls of purple and sky blue.
I paused as I rushed past her. I tapped her on the shoulder because she had headphones in her ears. I mouthed and mimed: “Your hair is beautiful!” She smiled. I ran on ahead, not wanting to miss any precious minutes with my friends.
When I got to Boogaloo’s I was so happy to see my friends. We’d all met at a creativity camp for adults about six years ago. There was a beautiful bond that surpassed time and geographical space. I was happy for our reunion!
I’d brought some fun paper glasses that make all light sparkle and create patterns. I’d also brought some tiny colorful parasols, which are kind of my trademark. When the waitress came by, one of my friends asked if she’d be willing to take a photo of us in our glasses – and some of us wearing our parasols in our hair.
She said, “Sure thing.” I looked up. And she said, “Hey, you were the person on BART who complimented my hair.” I said, “You’re the gal with the gorgeous hair!” We laughed. She took our photo.
It was a simple moment. One that could likely have gone on to be easily forgotten. But for some reason I was still thinking of this woman hours later. She’d told us her name was Astrid and several of us commented what a beautiful name. I tried to think of the book “White Oleander” – the name of which eluded me until just this moment – because the main character was named Astrid, or maybe her mother was, and I wanted to tell “our” Astrid.
Nevertheless, what I want to say is this: “How is it that eight hours after telling a total stranger that her hair is beautiful, I am still thinking about her?”
I think it is this: moments matter.
To add to that, I think this has something to do with that tiny line in time between when someone is an absolute stranger and when they become someone we know and care about.
I know Astrid now. Not only did I connect with her via smiles when I told her I loved her hair. But she was our waitress at Boogaloos. We were connected in that we were both rushing because the train was late and we had someplace to be – Boogaloos! We were also connected because she took a wonderful photo of me and my friends. She served us plantain cakes and biscuits and veggie gravy and pancakes and lattes.
As often happens, I didn’t start this essay with any idea of what I wanted to say. I like to let the stories reveal themselves.
I think what this wants to say is what it already stated: moments matter.
I will add to that:
Reaching out matters.
Other people matter.
Our lives matter, even the tiniest slices of them.
Yep, they do.
At one point during breakfast, someone walked by who was so colorful and lovely. I blurted out, “You look so beautiful!” She grinned, “Thank you!” One of my friends said to me, “I saw someone who was absolutely gorgeous a few days ago and I wanted to tell her she was beautiful, but I was reluctant to say something. I felt kinda weird. I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want her to feel awkward.”
I said, “It is hard to imagine someone who wouldn’t want to hear that they are beautiful!”
Think about it. That’s true, right?
Even if there was a reason someone doesn’t want to be told she is beautiful, if we feel the expression of their beauty rise up in us, shouldn’t we follow that impulse? Shouldn’t we let our life force run the show rather than fearing that small percentage of time when we might bump up against someone else’s resistance to our joy/appreciation?
I’m guessing that a huge majority of the time our expressions of appreciation to someone will be received wholeheartedly. There isn’t enough of that in the world. Most of us gobble it up!
Later, after breakfast, the whole group of us was meandering on Valencia Street, part of the Mission District. There are so many fun bookstores and specialty stores. We wandered into a store called Aldea and the light was streaming in on all the beautiful items.
I looked up and the clerk was smiling widely at all of us. I noticed he had these amazing blue eyes. I said, “WOW! You have incredible eyes! Do you get sick of hearing that?”
He said, “I haven’t heard it in a long time. Thank you. I really needed that today. I’m feeling hung over and not very bright eyed!”
We all laughed. We introduced ourselves.
I asked the clerk, Dave, where he was the previous night and he said he couldn’t remember. One of my friends, who had noted the name of a bar across the street, said, “Were you at Amnesia?” Ha ha. I loved her joke. (And she admitted, she’d wanted to use that line ever since she saw the name of the place a few blocks back. That made us all laugh even more!)
Suddenly, everything was different. The light was even brighter. Dave was laughing with us. We were all friends – when just moments before we were strangers.
While we were chatting, Dave noticed that we all had on buttons that said, “Be You.” He asked about them. I told him about my coaching client years ago who wanted to push the boundaries of her comfort zone. She wanted to reach out to the world in some creative way. She wanted people to know how unique and special they each are. So, she created these buttons and stood on a street corner with a sign that said “Be You.” And she handed out the buttons to people.
My client had sent me some of the buttons so I could give them out. I’d recently found a small stash. I, too, want people to know how unique and wonderful they (you!) are!
Dave listened intently. Then he wiped his eyes and said, “Stop, you’re making me get teary.”
I took the button off my own hat and handed it to him. “This is for you. You are awesome.”
He smiled and said, “More tears!” I gave him a hug and turned to leave.
He said, “Wait! Wait. Don’t go. I have a button for YOU!” He ran somewhere in the back of the store and returned with a beautiful button with trees and big bold clouds. He said, “This is like the sun coming out today, how it surprised us all.”
Did Dave know he was speaking in metaphors?! Because our connection was like the sun popping out, surprising me with its brightness.
How does this happen?
How do moments like this show up in our lives?
Are they random? Are we lucky? Do we have to wait to stumble upon them?
Well, yes and no.
I do think there is a beautiful possibility at anytime, anywhere, that we can connect to the people around us. We never know exactly when or with whom.
But it isn’t all luck.
I believe that we can intentionally prepare for and practice connection.
- Practice Meditation
Spend a few minutes every day in silence. It can be any kind of silence you choose – formal sitting meditation, walking meditation, being in nature. Practice being quiet and letting life whisper in your ear. Practice listening.
- Practice Appreciation
Write down things you notice every day that you appreciate. It could be colors or fabrics or gifts or words. Practice really paying attention to things that speak to you, like gifts (like Astrid’s hair or Dave’s eyes did for me). The first step of connecting is noticing.
- Practice Vulnerability
Allow yourself to feel exposed. Practice saying things that feel “too caring” or “too revealing.” Watch what happens. See if you can push the boundaries of what feels comfortable. Set a new thermostat gauge for comfort and let it include greater self-expression. Trust that when you are vulnerable it is a way of connecting even more authentically with someone else.
- Practice Intuition
Your meditative moments will also help with this one! You’ll begin to hear quiet suggestions: “Go down this street. Go say hello to her. Do this. Do that.” Your intuition will guide you on next steps or next sentences or appreciations. Listen for it and follow the guidance. Try not to second guess your intuition. Make a game of watching where it leads you.
- Practice Generosity
The first part of generosity is truly enjoying what we have. I allow myself to be fulfilled frequently. Having breakfast with great friends, living in an amazing city with a beautiful family. Cherishing my health. So, when I got to the moment of standing in front of Dave, when he mentioned the button, I was so deeply grateful for everything that I could easily hand over my button with a hearty, “Here!”
- Practice Receiving
When Dave said, “Hold on! I want to give you a button back. I didn’t stammer, “Oh, that’s not necessary.” or “You don’t need to.” I said what I felt, which was, “Yay! How fun is that?!” And when he returned with a beautiful button that had some trees and big bright clouds, I fully received that gift. I pinned it on my hat and grinned: “Thanks!”
We share this planet with 7.7 billion people. How many connections have you had with all of these awesome human beings? What would your life be like if you opened the door to more moments of enthusiastic connection?
I hope you’ll try it! Let me know in the comments below how it goes, okay? Because even though you and I may not have yet met, YOU matter to me!