Several years ago, I was meditating on a bus in Boston.
(What can I say? Not exactly a Zen garden, but I was trying to maximize my commuting time.)
Meditating helps to center me, and even a little bit helps. And given that meditation can look remarkably similar to sleeping — which was common for morning commuters on said bus — I fit right in.
When the bus stopped and everyone started get off, I stayed seated and reveled in my faux-serenity. I guess my meditation face does not belie a serene connection to the intricate web of life, though, because one of my fellow riders stopped and cocked an eyebrow at me.
He was probably in his thirties and was wearing a Celtics cap and a bulky, oversized coat and was holding an orange. It was a bleary winter day, so the fruit seemed out of place a bit. It stuck with me as a colorful emblem of what was about to happen — a citrus semaphore for the moment.
As he was standing in front of me, he reached his free hand out and angled it up a bit, as if asking for a sideways bro-handshake.
Puzzled, but a prisoner to reciprocity, I took his hand. We stayed like that for a second. I looked at him, and he at me.
He nodded and said: “So… are we going up?”
He wanted to help me stand up. I guess I looked exhausted rather than blissful.
I said yes, and he pulled as I stood. He nodded at me and walked off the bus.
That moment came to me again recently.
I can’t remember the last time I helped someone like that.
Someone who didn’t ask. Someone who might have given me a furrowed brow and a dismissive, distrustful look. Someone I didn’t know but acknowledged anyway.
It’s been a while since I took a chance and reached out to a stranger.
I get it: Right now might seem like the worst time ever to do that. Especially in the same way, as out hands are essentially petri dishes attached to our arms.
But I think we need something. Especially now. Because I keep thinking about what that stranger said to me.
Are we going up?
It doesn’t feel like it.
Divided and distant as we are, it doesn’t feel like we’re a “we” right now. And whatever trajectory we’re on, it doesn’t feel quite like “up.”
But I feel like there’s an opportunity.
Several years back, I had a project called A Drink with a Stranger. It’s pretty much what it sounds like: Combining refreshment (often boozy, but not always) with an unlikely conversation. Learning about what drives people, what inspires them, the stories that helped shape who they are.
I’m writing a book about the experience now, so I’m reminded every day of how important and surprising it was to me. Of how much these fleeting connections meant to me, and how much they meant to the strangers I drank with.
So I’m bringing it back.
At a time where everyone is apart, I want to have a drink and talk about things that matter with people I don’t know. Via Zoom, at least for now.
To reach out. To drink. To hopefully laugh and share something with someone just for the sake of it. To connect, at a time when I think we *all* need it.
First drink might be an Old Fashioned… with an orange slice for a garnish. And the first toast? “To going up.”
A shout out to a stranger who took a chance and reached out.