What Connecting with a Stranger Taught Me

This week, I had the unfortunate opportunity to be in the emergency room with my favorite pet, waiting to be seen. A woman sitting right across from me engaged me in conversation – she had a dog named Bella and I have a dog named Bella at home (not the pet at the hospital). She loved purple and had a purple phone and a purple leash on Bella. I love purple and had my purple purse and sweatshirt with me. She just returned from a cruise that she hated and still felt seasick from, and I went on a cruise where I felt sick for weeks afterward.

In the hospital waiting room we exchanged stories and told important pieces of our lives – to strangers. We wished each other well, and we talked about how much we loved our pets, and how arduous the process of waiting to be seen and then learning what was wrong could be. We bonded in the waiting room and yet we never even shared our first names with one another.

If people who have never met before – and will likely never meet again – can show kindness and compassion and find common ground in a matter of minutes, why can’t we extend this gift to the people we care about and know the best in our lives? Oftentimes we miss the fact that those people we interact with every day have common threads that bind us. Instead we might actually find ourselves focused on the differences – what we don’t like about the other person.

If Bella’s owner and I had spent more time together, perhaps we would have started to see things we didn’t like. She might have offended me, or I might have turned her off by something I said. We might have found out we have very different political leanings or religious affiliations. I’m involved in rescue and she might have bought her dog from a breeder. She might care a lot about something that doesn’t matter very much to me. Over time we would have likely identified the things that pull us apart, and we may have determined we couldn’t be friends.

But why, in the short amount of time we spent together, could we gain so much comfort from one another? We both felt supported and cared for, and we opened ourselves up in a matter of minutes in a difficult emotional situation. This happens so much when we pull together in tragedy or times of trouble: We share our souls with a person that we know nothing else about.

I think it illustrates the underlying sameness that we all carry with us; the piece that connects us which often gets lost as we spend so much time defending a position that’s different from another person, or looking for reasons we can’t get along. Underneath it all, we have a need for human connection. We have a need to be known and to share. We have a need to be understood. These needs live in most people. We may not realize them as we go about our days, but they are there.

What if this week you looked for the sameness in another person? What if you reached out to someone you think you don’t like and tried to form a connection? What if you worked on a relationship until you found the common ground – even if you had to dig for a bit to get there? Could any of your relationships be more supportive to you, and more fulfilling, if you spent the time to practice with connection? It seems to me that if I could connect at such a caring level with a person whose name I may never know, there are opportunities for me to find ways to connect with those around me right now.