I’ve been doing some airline travel lately and I’ve kept an unofficial tally: How often have I been engaged by strangers—in the security line, in the airport food court, at the boarding gate, on the plane, in baggage claim? My father, the late John Allen, loved such games.
One of my favorite stories, one that still makes me laugh, is how three consecutive Friday winter nights en route to our home in Vermont, Dad hit the same snowdrift while accessing the same northbound route (truly!). This did not frustrate or embarrass my father. Instead it gave him the thrill of meeting not one, not two, but three different tow truck drivers.
My father engaged with each of them and learned about them and their lives… these conversations all taking place with my siblings and me in the backseat of the stuck car, eager to get to our ski home, but finding the humor in how Dad took such interest in others. He would tell us later about each gentleman and give us things to think about.
For some, reaching out, asking a question, making an engaging comment to a stranger comes with ease, even with joy and pleasure. For others, not so much. Our lives are busy, programmed, focused on what is at hand. We often avoid stopping to ask a question of someone in the grocery store checkout line or of one of the women in the office at the kids’ school.
Yet if we take the time to think about it, we know that everyone appreciates being acknowledged, being made to feel that their presence matters and makes a difference in the world—even if just in their own communities.
One definition of outreach is to surpass, to reach further than. This brings to mind practicing a talent or doing something slightly (or not so slightly) outside our comfort zone. Be it exercise, music lessons or outreach, doing something that does not come with ease takes practice in order to make progress.
We all make this world go ’round. Each and every one of us. We can all play a part in acknowledging others, reaching out, asking about the people, sharing a kind word or gesture. Wouldn’t it be a fun game to see how far we all can reach in offering ourselves to others throughout our busy days in ways that might make us all feel a bit more connected in this great, wide world we live in? I’m in. I’d love for you to join me.