This morning while plugging away at work in a cafe, I had a bizarre “small world” experience. These few minutes reminded me of the unique opportunity we have to seek parallels to those around us. I was trying to squeeze all I could into the 2.5 hours while my youngest is at preschool. This coveted time frame is my sacred opportunity away from kids. It is a time for me to catch up, focus, and move ahead on my ever growing to-do list. Ya know, as long as preschool isn’t cancelled for a snow day, in-service meeting, or parent-teacher conference. This time is seriously precious.
Creating the Opportunity for Parallels
I have always been curious about people. Who they are, what makes them tick, where they came from, what perspectives drive their thoughts, what their passions are. If I needed to do it all over again, I’m confident I would have taken more sociology credits than the required 3 hours worth at my university. I have always been in awe of the people we come into contact with. I have a knack for overthinking and overanalyzing, so often stand in amazement of the 6 degrees of separation that seems to connect each of us. There are so many people in the world. To bring it closer, there are so many people in my state, in my city, in my neighborhood. I will never meet them all, but I should never shut the door on an opportunity. Such an opportunity presented itself this morning.
I was head down, nose deep in my laptop. I had my noise cancelling headphones on and had no intention of glancing at people around me. I presented myself as unapproachable as possible, and it was done with the best of intentions. I am a work-from-home mama with lots to do and little available time to get it done. When I first entered the cafe, I realized how busy it was. Tables were full and every space occupied. I crept upstairs to the conference rooms. Although they all had open doors and empty tables, I knew it was likely that someone had reserved them and I would be asked to leave. Deciding that I would take as much time as I could salvage, I sat down and began working.
I was head down and nose deep in my laptop. Once settled in, I accidentally glanced up to see a solo woman making the rounds and trying to find a place to park her stuff. Against my better judgement, I removed my headphones and offered her a place at my table, acknowledging that it was certainly big enough for both of us to work separately. And yes, I did emphasize the word “separately.”
Parallels That Unite
She did her work, and I did mine. She took phone calls and respectfully tried to keep them at a low volume. Though eavesdropping wasn’t my intention, I managed to overhear that her family was in some kind of an awful car accident recently and it sounded like a slew of doctor appointments plagued her life since. No small talk was made, and we both remained; head down and nose deep in our laptops.
Parallels That Are Worth Mentioning
As this random stranger packed up to leave our collaboration conference room, a server stopped in to pick up her coffee mug. I soon discovered they knew one another as they embraced and well wishes were shared. Through indirect eavesdropping, I learned that my conference room partner had suffered terribly in recently months. She was here today to open mail; the mail that hadn’t been opened since the accident because the casts on her two broken hands were just removed yesterday. I learned that in order to come to this cafe and sort through months of mail, she had to pay $70 to put her three kids in an art program because they were on spring break. Her children paralleled my children in age, her former career paralleled mine, and her former residence paralleled my old zip code.
You can imagine how odd it must have seemed that the mousy lady in the shared conference room was now sniffling to hold back sobs and using her buttered napkin to wipe away tears. The car accident did more than break a mama bear’s two hands. It left two of her children with scrapes and scars, and one with a traumatic brain injury. Her kindergartener. Tears were hard to hold back as she talked about her daughter, the same age as mine, and all that she has gone through. Tears were impossible to hold back as she told her friend what her 3-year old says of the accident. I tried to imagine how my own 3-year old would respond through a knotted stomach.
In the end, we were no longer strangers. I introduced myself as April and she revealed herself as Heather. Our three children share the same birth years. Our former zip code of Chicago shares the relocation stories of a move to Minnesota. We nodded in agreement about how you would do anything to protect your children and how devastating it is to realize you can’t control the environment or those around you.
I was devastated by her story and the journey that still lies ahead. But I was comforted by our parallels. Despite the sadness and the connections that brought us to conversation, we both shared how hopeful it was to talk. If even for a brief moment, while our parallel universes collided with one another. And in spite the fact that we were head down and nose deep in our laptops.
Photo Credit: Pixabay