Swapping Life Stories with Strangers

As someone who really enjoys their quiet, internal time, I can assure you that I do not make these new airplane-friends on purpose. I think I must just have a face that says, “Tell me your life story beginning with your most traumatic memory, because I’ll listen.”

On one flight I met a man who spent the first half of our flight telling me the intimate details of his relationship with his first wife and the second half comparing and contrasting her with his second wife. (The first was gorgeous but crazy, and the second is less gorgeous but also less crazy.) We also had a lot in common—he’d worked where I lived in Louisiana, we both loved Germany, and we both agreed that I should avoid settling down as long as I could stand it.

He also warned me against long distance relationships and long-term love at such a young age, which was awkward as I was flying to visit my long-distance, long-term boyfriend. While his experience-based advice seemed well informed, I dismissed his warnings. I even told said boyfriend about said advice with a “ha-how-crazy-is-that?” Said boyfriend latched on to this advice more than I’d realized, however, and now I know that some conversations are better left between strangers.

But I have to blog about something, right? So let’s continue.

On another flight, I met a guy who worked for a well-known company that was a big client of my then-boyfriend’s company (keepin’ it vague to protect the innocent). Now this fact alone isn’t strange or all that unusual, but we continued to speak to one another like old friends instead of the strangers we actually were. We realized that we were both in a similar place in life—the unknown—and we also both loved the same piece of artwork at Crystal Bridges. But then how could we not? It’s an upside-down depiction of the Last Supper made from spools of thread. Google it.

On another flight, I taught an elderly man how to play Sudoku. And on another, I talked to a woman about the recent death of her grandmother and her impending homecoming to a house full of in-laws. And on another still, I sat beside a man that went to high school soccer camps at Centenary College—my Alma Mater—when he lived in Shreveport.

Each time I sat down on a new plane, I silently hoped no one would talk to me. It’s not that I disliked talking to these people; it’s just that I really enjoyed my thinking time. There’s something about looking out of a window and seeing clouds below instead of above that puts things in perspective for me like nothing else can. It’s a great time to write and just be.

But then a funny thing started to happen: I got over myself. I started to listen to their stories with real interest. And then I started taking pride in being a good listener. An active listener. And I started asking questions, and I learned things about these strangers. And then I learned things about people in general: everyone just wants to be heard. I mean sure, we want other things like money and food and love too, but an important piece of life is being heard. Really heard. Because isn’t it in hearing each other that we say, “Hey, I think you matter. And I think you have something to offer. And hey look at that, you’re kind of funny too.”?