Last night, I found myself waiting at the bus stop near my house in the bitter cold. My hood was up, my head was down, and the only thought on my mind was whether or not it was worth it to slide my gloves off for long enough to check the arrival time of the next bus on my phone.
There was a man standing beside me who, while wearing a winter coat and hat, was visibly much colder than I was. He paced back and forth in front of me and I kept my head down, still anxiously counting down the minutes until the next bus would arrive. We eventually made eye-contact and I could tell that he was going to start talking to me. Admittedly, I was dreading the prospect of a conversation with a stranger in the cold (it is much easier to avoid the wind when you are staring at your shoes), but I did my best to smile politely and reply when he told me that the cold weather warning in Toronto had been lifted not long ago. He continued pacing and I quickly returned to looking down at my feet.
A few minutes later, this man approached me again, returning to the topic of the cold weather warning in the city. This time, he asked me whether or not I thought that the people who issue cold weather warnings ever have to spend much time out in the cold actually feeling what it is like to be outside for extended periods of time. Once again, I smiled politely and replied. But this time, I was in less of a hurry to go back to staring at the ground. This man just wanted to chat and I was beginning to realize that there was no harm in that.
Our conversation continued over the next few minutes as we bounced to a few different topics, including recent lottery winners and what we might do if we were lucky enough to win the next Lotto 649 draw. But finally, the bus pulled up and we parted ways to find empty seats. My focus shifted back to how cold my hands and feet were and whether or not I was going to be on time to meet my friends downtown.
As the bus pulled into the subway station, this man stood up and walked towards the back exit of the bus where I was sitting. He looked up at me, looked down into the bag that he was holding, and handed me a small package of tissues.
“Just in case you need it,” he said.
He sheepishly looked back down into his bag and mentioned that he had just picked up a bunch of these packages from the store and that I might need one given how cold it has been outside lately. And with that, he exited the bus, walked into the station, and disappeared down the subway platform.
With the pack of tissues in hand, I boarded the train and felt almost completely overwhelmed by this seemingly insignificant act of kindness and moment of real human connection with someone who, just a few minutes before, I had been doing my best to ignore. I took a seat on the train, pulled out my phone, and immediately began typing. What I wrote was a point-form version of everything that I have shared here so far. There was something about this moment that struck a chord with me and I desperately wanted to figure out what it was. I thought that running through the moments of this encounter might help me to process my own reaction and maybe learn something at the same time.
Now, I realize that many people may shrug this off as an insignificant encounter or wonder why I felt the need to document this experience in such detail. I mean, this is certainly not the first time that I have chatted with a total stranger on the bus or subway. So, why exactly was I so overwhelmed by this short conversation and a small pack of tissues?
I have since decided against trying too hard to extract some sort of lesson from this experience that would allow me to retell the story with a well-packaged moral and purpose. I have also decided against being too self-conscious of the fact that this interaction struck a chord with me in the profound way that it did. Instead, I simply want to share this as an example of what I consider to be a moment of true human connection in a world where it is all too easy to feel disconnected.
Others may or may not take something from this. To be honest, it really does not matter to me. It could be that this is just my way of saying thank you to the man who forced me to look up from my feet and start looking at the world around me just a little bit differently. Or perhaps I just needed to write this to remind myself that it is okay to be completely overwhelmed by the beauty of genuine human connection sometimes. In the end, maybe this is just my way of reaching out to anyone reading this who could use a similar reminder. If you happen to be one of these people, then this is for you… just in case you need it.