“What is this feeling?” My friend asked on Saturday around 5:00 PM. The chance meeting. The favorite song spilling from an open window. Turning your head at just the right moment. It’s joyful. The type of surprise that makes you laugh, not so much in amusement as in wonder. It’s always rare – that’s the nature of the thing. But over the past year, it felt nonexistent. “It’s serendipity,” I replied. Oh yes, that.
It Started With Kindness
People can be pretty cruel. (Just look at the reaction to last week’s post.) Over the past year, we’ve come to expect a degree of selfishness from others. We’re at each other’s throats over politics, over safety, over basic human dignity. So when my friend and I found ourselves lost on a mountain in the Catskills, out of water, covered in mosquito bites, stumbling into a stranger’s backyard, we weren’t immediately inclined to ask for help. All we asked for was directions. Without many options, we hoped that was a safe decision.
The trail we were following had vanished due to heavy erosion earlier this year. We ended up following what we thought were the remnants of the trail, but turned out to be a DEP property line. We emerged about four miles from where we were supposed to be. But the couple at the house, who happened to be close in age to us, gave us water and a ride home. What we didn’t know then is that they had other plans. There were about to leave to go do something entirely different. Instead, they took us home and accepted our invitation to come in for a drink. Three hours passed. We realized we were from the same neighborhood. They invited us over for a barbeque the next day. We should have been hosting them. They were the ones who saved us, after all. But by that point it didn’t matter. What everyone wanted, clearly, was to connect with someone. We all needed that.
Serendipity Feels Like Magic…
but it’s not. It grows out of openness, the willingness to say yes to new experiences and new people. I’m thinking of all of the moments last weekend any one of us could have said no. No, I will not speak to that stranger. Sorry, I can’t drive you home. We won’t come inside the house. No, we shouldn’t come over tomorrow. We don’t know you. I’m not going to jump in your creek, or eat your food, or help you build your bonfire. By the time it’s two in the morning and you’re talking to someone like you’ve known them your whole life, it feels like serendipity. But we made this happen.
Online and in the news it can seem like the world is very broken. In many ways it is. I’m not writing this in order to dismiss division, or oppression, or to make a Pollyannaish case that “People are really good at heart.” I am writing this to remind us that the way we approach others impacts our experiences of them. Because, it turns out, our new friends are different from us in a lot of ways as well. Our politics are not the same, our experiences and interests are widely divergent. But I know for a fact that these are people who will drop everything to help a random stranger in need. I know that they are openhearted.
Beyond that, little else matters.