up in the air

plane

Once, I spoke on the phone with a friend of a friend who works in the public relations industry and was giving me career advice.  I was lamenting on my lack of specific direction when she asked me, “How would you spend your ideal day?”  I thought about this.  “For me,” she said, “I would be in a hammock reading Vogue on the beach all day if I could.”

“I would sit all day in a coffee shop, just chatting with whoever came and sat down next to me,” I told her.

I’ve written before about my love for strangers.  Talking to people as though I’ve known them my whole life is what I do best, and what I enjoy most.  So naturally, earlier this week when I traveled to Chicago for a job interview, I found myself doing lots of what I just mentioned: making new friends.

On the plane from Gainesville to Atlanta, I met a man who has been researching malaria for more than 30 years.  His work takes him away from his family frequently, but he knows it’s worth it for the value of the discoveries he’s taking part in.  From Atlanta to Chicago, I sat next to a guy who went to Virginia Tech and studied theatre.  He is now an experimental actor in Chicago who had just left the funeral of his 23-year-old brother’s girlfriend (who committed suicide in the apartment they shared).

At the airport waiting to fly from Chicago to Charlotte, I struck up a conversation with a man who lives and works in Wisconsin in economic development for the state of Victoria, Australia.  He grew up in Australia but moved to the United States 20 years ago after falling in love with an American girl studying abroad at his university.  “You must have really liked her to move across the world,” I said to him.  He explained to me that there wasn’t a place far enough away for him not to follow her.  “I knew she was it,” he said.  “And when you know that, you owe it to yourself to relentlessly pursue that person.”

In that same airport, I met the VP of Marketing for the largest independent bottler of Coca Cola in the country.  He was full of professional and interview advice.  One of the greatest things, though, was when he stopped talking about work and started absolutely glowing about his daughter.  It was clear that she is the sunshine of his life and it was so refreshing to hear a dad be so genuinely proud of his little girl.

On my airplane ride to Charlotte, I had every intention of taking a nap…specifically, a window seat-leaning, mouth possibly open, two-hour nap.  But after Rebecca started talking to me, I knew that wasn’t in the cards.

I heard about her husband, a former Army Special Forces officer who works in North Carolina now as she works in Wisconsin.  I heard about their commitment for making their marriage work after all these years in spite of deployments and distance constantly getting in the way.  I heard about her grandkids, and Disney plans, and then I heard about how she tragically lost one of her best friends in an accident last week.  Tears were in both of our eyes as we tried together to make sense of such a senseless tragedy.

I spent my final flight from Charlotte to Gainesville trying to nap but struggling to do so.  Just two days earlier, I’d been feeling crappy about relationship issues and personal problems (and to be honest, I still feel pretty crappy about those things).  In that short time though, I’d been exposed to countless people who’d given me perspective on life, work, family travel and love…all things I could use a lot more perspective on.

Even more intensely, I was met with the realization that the quote we hear so often (frequently attributed to Plato)  is unbelievably true.  “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.”

I’ve encouraged this before and I will again: take a moment today, or tomorrow, or the next day to talk to–really talk to–a stranger.  You never know who might be in need of some kind words, and I can guarantee that you’ll learn something too.  I learned this week that love knows no distance, family is a gift and life is short.  I have heard all of these things before, but had I not spoken with these total strangers this week, I wouldn’t have actively seen just how true they are.

signed, sealed, delivered

If you read my bucket list, you might have picked up on the fact that I love sending snail mail.

In fact, a couple of years ago, I sought to write 365 letters in 365 days.  I even started a blog about it!  I didn’t complete this challenge, as a letter a day is actually much more challenging than it sounds, but I did send probably 150 letters in a year and I think that is still a great deal more than most of the population.

Here’s a snippet of what I posted in my old blog that explains a bit about my love for letters.

My entire life, I’ve loved receiving mail.  I would check the mail when I got off the bus in elementary and middle school, praying that something in that box would be for me.

Occasionally, I’d get magazines or catalogs– American Girl catalogs were always a treat.  Sometimes, I’d get Delta airlines offers for sky miles or credit cards– that made me feel very adult.  But every now and then, I’d open the mailbox and find inside a letter addressed to me.  The feeling this brought me, and continues to bring me to this day, is pure joy.

You see, when I get a letter, I know that someone took time out of their busy day to write to me.  They used their fancy stationery or bought me a card.  They found a good pen and wrote a message meant only for me.  Then, they found a stamp (which, if you’re like me, means a special trip to the post office every single time you want to send something).  Last, they put it in the mail and some wonderful mail carriers saw that it got from their hands to mine.

The whole process is relatively simple, and has been around seemingly forever, but the outcome is just so magical.  The initial moment when you see that a letter has come to you is so thrilling, then you read the letter and you feel sentimental and touched, then you save it somewhere special and smile every time you come across it.  Like I said before: pure joy.

When I wrote this back in 2012, it was true.  In 2014, it is even truer.  For me, snail mail is a chance to slow down.  To be patient.  To focus all of my energy and attention into one small gesture.

I hope that I’m able to bring a smile to friends’ faces as they head to their mailboxes every now and again.  After all, you never know when that 49-cent piece of sunshine is going to be just the thing someone needs to brighten his or her day!

Want to send or receive snail mail?  Shoot me an email and we can be pen pals!