The Gift of Presence

How often do you meet a perfect stranger, willingly or reluctantly, and have an opinion of them before they even speak a word? Do you make conversation, or do you shy away uninterested in the giving of your time, attention, or presence? Have you found yourself on the other side of a conversation with a perfect stranger grateful for the encounter? Have you considered the possibility that your meeting might not be so random?

Every friend I have, was once a stranger. Whether you walk away from a chance meeting with a new friend or not, I encourage you to take the opportunity to give someone just a few moments of your time. Think about how much you have learned about yourself through the connections you have with others. Relationships teach us a lot about ourselves. Brief encounters with random strangers can often change someone’s life; you never know the impact you might have and vice versa.  

Sometimes letting your guard down, wearing a friendly smile and connecting with a perfect stranger can have a lasting impact. We don’t know the stories of others, and we barely give recognition to our own. Most of the time when people shut out others, it is because they are afraid of being judged or disliked. Too often, we keep to ourselves in our small little comfortable box, keeping people out and ourselves locked safely in. That world becomes very limited and eventually very lonely.

I frequently fly between Ohio and Florida by myself, and most times I don’t mind a friendly conversation with my seat partner. But, there are certainly times when I just want to be left alone and read a book. If you have ever flown solo, I am sure you have experienced similar feelings. There have been many times I have talked for hours on a flight, or listened for hours on a flight, and then there have been times that I didn’t share my presence and opportunities were lost.

A friend shared with me a recent encounter she had with her seat mate on her last flight. She had hoped to sit quietly and read a book, but instead, a man sat next to her and immediately started talking. Though she had no intention of having a conversation, she opened up with kindness and curiosity to this stranger and by the time they landed, she had made a lasting impression and quite an impact. He was going through a difficult time, had re-evaluated and re-prioritized his life and was in transition. My friend was traveling with a mala she had purchased from me, and he complimented its beauty and wanted to know how to use it. She shared what malas are and the different ways in which they can be used, including going bead by bead with your fingers and repeating a mantra. She said, “For instance, ‘I am enough. I am enough.’” His eyes teared as he told her, “That’s exactly what I’ve told myself just this weekend.” By the end of the flight, she had given him the mala as a gift. She felt like this was no coincidence; the universe had interceded and delivered him a reinforcement in his time of need. And my friend, though initially reluctant, connected with a stranger on a flight, and perhaps gave him the courage to do what he knew he needed to do.

Brief conversations with strangers can leave them empowered. A listening ear can go a long way in bringing about healing. Connection with someone, however brief, can build self-esteem. And generosity is often a gift that keeps on giving, to both the giver and the receiver. And, I must give mention to the elderly. There have been many times that I have entertained conversations with the elderly in restaurants, airports, and on airplanes. Those conversations have been some of my favorite because their experiences and stories are full of wisdom, they express fearless emotions, and I inevitably walk away a little softer and wiser.

Last month when I drove to upstate New York for Baptiste training, I stopped at a diner in Phoenicia, NY and sat by myself at the counter. The place was super busy and noisy. An older gentleman came in and sat next to me at the counter. I don’t remember who started the conversation, but what I do remember is embracing him as he wept over the recent loss of his partner for over 40 years. He was embarrassed and apologized for his sadness and his uncontrollable emotions. I let him know that I was honored that he had shared his loss with me, and in fact, we had had a devastating loss also, losing Larry Jr 3 ½ years ago. We talked about grief and healing, and he thanked me several times before I left. I have a feeling he left our brief encounter with some healing and perhaps a little stronger, and so did I.

I encourage you to think about your imprint, your legacy, or the many lives you have touched. Think about your connections with others and your relationships. Consider how much you share and how much you hide. Are you afraid of being judged or are you the one doing the judging? Perhaps both? How often do you truly give your time and attention, to not only those you love, but to the strangers among you?

And lastly, do you have a generous spirit? In the Book of Joy, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama describe having a generous spirit as being easy and fun to be with, radiating joy, being less about self-agendas, having nothing to prove, less pretense, and being more open and honest. A generous spirit promotes not only self-acceptance, but an acceptance of others, and compassion for both ourselves and humanity. Those with generous spirits often have a sense of humor, they don’t take themselves so seriously, they forgive, and they are grateful. They feel connected.

I am learning that all experience is useful. Everything is progress. The most important thing we can offer someone is our presence. I am cultivating a generous spirit. And finally, sharing a quote from Oprah, “I believe three of the most important words anyone can say are not ‘I love you’, but ‘I hear you.’’’