• Stephanie Hammond

The joy of a chance encounter

I still feel a quiver of joy when I remember chance meetings that sometimes lead to a lifetime friendship, and sometimes were with someone I never saw again.

In one visit to the US, I rode the Amtrak train from Los Angeles to attend a conference in Portland, Oregon. The conductor sat me next to Cloy, an 80 year old man who was travelling from San Antonio, Texas to Bend, Oregon. Cloy was so generous in sharing his story and soon we were chatting like old friends. I learned from him how possible it is to have a passion for adventure all the days of our lives. We were both reluctant to separate when his journey came to an end at Bend. But - we had exchanged contact details. Subsequently, with his daughter and son-in-law, Cloy came to visit me in Auckland and when I went to live in the US, I visited him in San Antonio. Precious memories of a chance meeting.

I was going to Portland to a town planning conference where I met two men, one from Seattle, the other from New Hampshire. Conferences are great places for networking. And for building friendships. The man from Seattle hosted me for a couple of days, introducing me to the sights of Seattle through the eyes of a local. The photo is of the Seattle public library. He was also generous in introducing me to colleagues who could help me with my research I was undertaking for my work.

The man from New Hampshire and his wife hosted me during a power outage in the middle of winter. He invited me to a Kaballah lesson he was attending while I was there. That was one of the most informative discussions on spirituality I ever participated in. I came away with a deeper understanding of the range of adherence to religious principles from the ‘spirit’ to the ‘letter’ of the law.

The friendships of these three men lasted the test of time. And other chance meetings, although brief, have had equally lasting impacts.

Another 80+ year old gentleman asked permission to join me at the coffee shop where I was having a drink. He proceeded to tell me about his work as an engineer, about his projects, and what he liked about a lifelong professional interest in changes in engineering practices. His sweet wife came to see if I was all right. She was relieved to find I was genuinely interested.

After I left that library, I was hurrying to a meeting when I passed a public garden full of beautiful tulips. A young man (perhaps homeless) was pacing in front and when he saw me he asked me if I thought it would be OK if he picked one. We shared our enjoyment of the tulips (my favourite flower, by the way) and he was relieved to have “permission” to pick one.

I was on my last day in Vancouver when I passed a homeless man asking for spare change. I happened to have a voucher for a burger from a popular burger establishment and squatted down on the pavement beside him. I didn’t know if it would be helpful to him but offered it in lieu of change, which I didn’t have. His eyes lit up and he told me how much he’d enjoy that ‘supreme’ burger and it was indeed very welcome. We sat talking for several minutes and I was humbled to hear his story. There but for different circumstances in my life might I be.

And finally, the man in the supermarket. He seemed to be in every aisle I was in and we exchanged pleasantries. He was there behind me in the checkout and, encouraged by the checkout operator, he sang a song. Everyone clapped and sang along with him. I left with a smile on my face and in my heart.

My travels are peppered with chance meetings that have influenced and changed me. So are my daily ventures outside my home. I am the sum of my experiences - and those experiences of all those who share a moment with me. So long as others are willing to spontaneously share a moment with me, and I with them, my life is an adventure.

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