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Perfect Strangers

1:55 PM – EST

Broadway and 111th Street

New York, New York

I read something that really stopped me in my tracks this morning. It was a quote by personal development author and speaker, Jim Rohn. He said, “Sharpen your interest in people and life.” It made me consider how often we just sort of go-through the motions. Maybe a relationship hasn’t panned out the way we dreamt it would. A job opportunity or career path was thwarted, or self-sabotaged. Whatever the case, it occurred to me after coming across this quote that events have the potential to leave dispiriting alterations with our relationship to the world and subsequently ourselves.

I wondered what made the difference between those who looked at failure or setbacks as an opportunity for reinvention versus those who saw failure as just failure.

This morning as I sat in a Starbucks a few blocks away from my alma mater, a coffee shop I literally walked past every day for three years but never stepped inside, I overheard a conversation between an elderly man and a woman. The two were strangers until they weren’t. The gentlemen and I were sitting by the window facing Broadway, directly across the street from Koronet Pizza, a neighborhood stalwart as far as pepperoni goes. “I like to sit here because the light’s better for reading,” I overheard him say before realizing I agreed.

He joyfully obliged her request to sit at his table as he read the New York Times. I wondered for a moment why she didn’t ask to sit at my table though I may have been more relieved than I care to admit. It may have been the uninviting Everest backpack that rested in the empty chair beside me, or an omniscience on her part that she just might have more to say to a fellow octogenarian should an opportunity for conversation present itself, which it eventually did.

The two spoke at length and it was clear they were well-read and informed about current events, which is to say they knew a thing or two about politics. They seemed to bond over their disdain for Donald Trump and a few other slightly less polarizing issues and people, which is to say anything BUT Donald Trump. But when the conversation shifted to the future the old man said over and over that he was hopeful, while his new friend glanced at him incredulously.

This man, who was undoubtedly in the final chapters of his life, seemed to maintain a sense of hope for a future he would likely not be a part of, while she seemed intrigued but too heavily draped in the garments of broken promises and could-have-been’s to indulge him.

Their differences were not an impediment to kindness. The confab ended as it began with a nod and unspoken respect for having lived enough life to know they’d really never know it all. Then they each rose from their chairs and headed off in different directions becoming strangers once again.

When I asked my friend Starr, 36, from Oakland what the best piece of advice she ever received was she told me, “To be present. Being present helps me be most efficient and I’m actually living in reality and not on a trip in some place that I can sometimes travel to in my head.”

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