Talk to Strangers on Airplanes. Or Maybe Just Smile

Meditations in Motion

The high school where I used to teach was in the news last week.

A group of students, protesting hate speech directed at the school’s LGBT community, walked out of class and were subsequently suspended for one day.

The students, members of the group Gender Sexuality Alliance, seemed to think the punishment was fair. After all, they were warned that if they skipped class, they would be disciplined.

The incident certainly brought attention to the issue. Front page stories in the local and regional newspapers delivered the account to thousands of readers.

Ah, school days.

Now that I look back on it, one of the best aspects of high school, apart, you know, from all the learning and stuff, were the various clubs students had the opportunity to become involved with.

Our school had clubs for students with interests in everything from Bible studies to anime, from skiing to computer programming, and from environmental activism to publishing a literary magazine.

Meditations in Motion

What a wonderful way to build the practice of coming together alongside others withΒ  common interests to share our excitement and joy.

We don’t do that enough these days.

Sharing interests on social media can be beneficial, but it doesn’t replace real-life, human-to-human personal interaction.

I belong to a Facebook group for runners of, ahem, a certain age. I enjoy posting and responding to posts in that group.

There are some posts about injuries, to be sure, but most of the news is good news, runners recounting their exploits and accomplishments. I regularly get inspired reading about the adventures we Baby Boomers experience through running.

I have made acquaintances in the group I enjoy interacting with online but I have never met anyone from the group in real life.

In the running club I run with almost every Tuesday night, I have friends. We have a beer together, travel to races together, can look into each other’s eyes, and know each other’s joys and heartaches outside of our running lives. It’s not the same thing as the social media group.

We humans are wired for social connections. It doesn’t have to be through a club, we can get social interaction by coming together with others who hold similar beliefs.

Meditations in MotionWhen you join a church, you don’t (usually) just go to services once a week, you join a Bible study group, you teach Sunday school, you help run Bingo games, craft sales, and holiday bazaars. You become part of a community.

Joining others with the same beliefs doesn’t necessarily mean religion, either. You can participate in the Women’s March or the March for Life or both, depending on your views. You can get involved in the anti-gerrymandering movement with other like-minded souls or volunteer to work at the polls on election day.

Heck, talk to the person in the seat next to you on the airplane, rather than clamping on headphones the minute you sit down. OK, that one can be tricky. I have to admit, I have sometimes looked forward to a few hours of uninterrupted reading time, only to make small talk with a retired teacher from Colorado Springs on the three-hour flight from Denver to Philadelphia.

Sometimes we make connections through shared pain or grief.

I taught in one school for over 30 years, usually averaging 120 students each year. Do the math – that’s a lot of teenagers I learned to know throughout my career. Some of the faces and names become a little blurry over time.

Meditations in MotionI will never forget, however, the students who were in my class on 9/11. At first, there were whispers that something unusual was happening in New York, then the announcement came over the loudspeaker – classes would stay in the room they currently occupied. Students did not pass from first period to second, third, etc.

I had a class of second-year chemistry students in my room at the time. We turned on the TV and watched, in horror, as the second tower was hit, then as both towers fell.

Teenage boys, who are not afraid of anything, said, “I’m scared, Mrs. Hess.

I’m scared too,” I told them with tears in my eyes.

I had a different relationship, forever, with that class. We shared a unique common bond of fear, sorrow, and tenderness.

I will never forget how kind we were to each other after 9/11. Not just my students and me, the whole country.

We looked each other in the eye at the grocery store and smiled. We were congenial while waiting in line. We were even considerate when driving, saying “No, you go first,” at four-way stop signs. We had a bond of shared trauma and anguish.

What happened to us?

Meditations in MotionWe retreated into our iron-clad bunkers of isolation because it’s safer to be alone than to risk rejection, humiliation, or vulnerability through interaction with others who may not accept us or agree with our beliefs.

It’s a false sense of security at best.

Hunkering down in seclusion dismisses our undeniable need for connectedness, our all-too-human heart.

What can we do?

Make those connections. Take a few minutes to talk with your coworkers at the water cooler (you can tell your boss I said it’s OK), smile at the woman washing her hands next to you in the restroom, join the Women’s Club, the Lions Club, heck, join a bowling league. Volunteer with United Way.

Call a friend and go for a walk, invite someone to your house for dinner. Or brunch, I love to be invited for brunch. (To any of my friends reading this: this is a hint.) Be open to possibilities, be willing to make yourself vulnerable, be kind.

We were all baptized by one Holy Spirit. And so we are formed into one body. So the body is not made up of just one part. It has many parts. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it. If one part is honored, every part shares in its joy. 1 Corinthians 12

 

You can find the places I link up here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

103 comments

  1. We absolutely have to step out of our social media bubbles and make genuine contact with others, Laurie. In your shared memory of 9/11, I thought to myself, “Does it take a tragedy to unite us? Make us kinder to one another? Reveal what’s truly important in life?” I pray for this nation, for all Americans, that we would be able to unite in spite of our outward differences.
    Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Making connections is what makes life worth living. Thanks for this encouragement to connect with those around us. It doesn’t have to be long but sometimes even a short conversation is enough to brighten up everyone’s day (including ours). “Be open to possibilities, be willing to make yourself vulnerable, be kind.” Yes!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Sorry Laurie, you know me: preternaturally pessimistic–what I remember after 9/11 was a lot of finger pointing and scapegoating of people who didn’t look “American.” I live in isolation. And now that I think about it, it may well have started right after 9/11. I know the steps to break free but I can’t seem to get started. It’s all gone on too long.

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  4. We will work on that brunch thing… Ha!
    Laura used to get embarrassed by me because I talked to people I didn’t know. Now she does it too.
    I am also in a FB running group but it’s a different one – Running Geezers. You must be younger than I am. πŸ™‚
    I have actually met some of the people in it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are so outgoing, Peg. I think I probably embarrassed my kids at times too. From talking to people and various other stuff! πŸ™‚ I will check out that Running Geezers group. I beling to another group for runners who are 60+. I don’t think I am younger than you, Peg! πŸ™‚

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  5. Thanks for the link for the 50+ running group – I just asked to join.

    Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the south, I’m older, or because I’m just naturally a friendly person, but I feel like I already do many of those things. I will admit that sometimes I like to vanish into the woodwork (or airplane seat) and pretend I’m all alone so I can read my book or just daydream.

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    • I like the running group. I also belong to one for 60+ members too. I think you are a friendly person too, Debbie. You post a lot of photos of friends and family in your blog. My dad was very outgoing – he could talk to anyone. I think I have sort of followed in his footsteps. I definitely understand wanting to be invisible sometimes, though. I am the same way.

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  6. I agree with you about making connections and to be open to possibilities and be kind. I’ve made new friends through my yoga class, movie nights, blogging, and would invite you to brunch if we lived closer πŸ™‚ Thanks. Laurie, for linking up with me on this Wellness Weekend. The next link up is on March 15. Optional prompt Spring Forward. #WW2020

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes, 9/11 changed us … we did become all as one in our grief, horror-stricken as we were about the unknown and the scenes we witnessed on the news. People going out of windows and falling aimlessly to escape the smoke and fire. Scary and terrifying when even the boys in your class did not try to act macho and admitted fear. Too bad that feeling of a shared circumstance and unity could not have lasted. It is how I imagine those people in mass shootings feel as they witness what goes on around them – the ones that live, must share a bond and a need to talk to others who were there, because the ones who were not part of that shared experience will always somehow be on the outside.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I remember the aftermath so clearly. We were all shaken and all so kind to each other. I was not a big fan of George Bush, but I thought he did a wonderful job of speaking to the country after it happened. it IS too bad that it took something as terrible as that day to unite us and REALLY too bad that the unity did not last. It was hard for me to imagine that by the time I quit teaching, my students had probably not even been born on 9/11.

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      • Yes, I hope we never see anything else like 9/11 in our lifetime. The unity was brief as you said. Once the horror had worn off, it was business as usual for many people. That is amazing your students weren’t born yet by the time you left – time is zipping by too quickly. You can show the videos and newspaper clippings to someone who was not around in 2001, but it would never be the same as watching the events in real time.

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      • I went with some friends to visit the 9/11 museum in New York City a few years ago. It was very moving, especially since I could remember that day. I would like to go back. We didn’t have enough time to see the entire museum. The best part was the timeline of the actual event.

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      • When they opened the exhibit there was a special on “Sixty Minutes” about it – I listen to “Sixty Minutes” on the radio and I later went on their site to watch this episode. Leslie Stahl went through the museum and they spotlighted the main areas. It is something I would also find moving and would like to see some day.

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      • It was kind of confusing when we first got there. We didn’t find the most interesting exhibits until it was close to the time we had to leave. I want to go back at some point.

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      • Yes, I guess there is so much to see you could miss it … I know they showed all the sections of the memorial on “Sixty Minutes” so you could see it from looking down, as well as up close in the room with everyone’s picture and the recorded voices. I was at the Smithsonian Museums many years ago – 1977 I think. My father and I took a plane to Washington, D.C. – too much walking for my mom. We stayed four days I believe and never saw a lot of the exhibits in the various museums that are part of the Smithsonian.

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  8. Your post brings back the day of just feeling secure to drop in and visit someone for coffee or good chat. But, now with all working or so busy with life, it seems those impulse visits are few and far between. Even for family some times. I have only flown once in my life when I was in my late 60’s. I did find conversation with a sweet gal who sat beside me that was originally from Mexico but now lived in CA. She was very young, and worked as a translator. We talked the whole flight. I agree, personal interactions do outweigh at times the virtual interactions. I enjoy my FB groups and blogs people I’ve me along the way too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was just thinking about that same thing – just dropping by for a chat and a visit. We don’t do that anymore. I enjoy my FB and blogging friends too. I just think internet connections are bad if they are the only human interaction you have. It’s good to have real-life conversations too!

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  9. Excellent point – it is often hard to make connections. I am very introverted, and it’s hard for me to make the effort to talk to people I don’t already know. But when I do manage, it’s often rewarding πŸ™‚ Not always! But often enough to keep me trying to venture out of my shell.

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    • You seem so outgoing to me! This is my ignorance showing, but are you physically isolated in Alaska? I don’t think all internet interaction is bad, I just think when it gets in the way of real, human interaction, it might be time to scale it back.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, I lurk on people’s pages for a while before I comment or interact πŸ™‚ I’m outgoing with people I know or think of as friends (or least friendly). Nope – not physically isolated, though that is a real possibility in this state. I live in Anchorage, which is a medium size city.
        Yes – agree that when it takes over for IRL interactions, then it’s a problem!

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Ah, yes, human interaction. As much as I love blogging and connecting to runners online, it can’t replace human contact. This morning we went running in a small group of three, and it made such a difference to running alone.
    But I should make more connections in daily life, there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement!

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  11. This reminds me of a sentence my husband says every once in a whileβ€”β€œWhat would it be like if we all treated each other the way we did in the days after 9/11…”. We do take humanity for granted, this opposition to walk side by side. A good reminder here!!

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  12. I have had the pleasure of meeting many online friends IRL, but I agree, it doesn’t change the need for IRL friends, either.

    To play devil’s advocate, though, it’s not to have some connection via the Internet when you move even occasionally, like we do. This is our third state, and I don’t expect it to be out last state.

    For some people it’s easy to make friends wherever they go, no matter their age, but it always takes me a while. It may not be the same online, but it’s nice to feel a little less alone.

    That said, I often make a point to smile & say something to people when I’m out and about — but generally not when I’m traveling. Guilty as charged.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I have lots of friends from high school I haven’t seen for years, but it’s nice to be connected with them through FB. I also don’t want to diminish the blogger friendships I have made. As you said, though, it’s not the same as in real life.

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  13. I was talking just the other day with some of the ladies from my church about the way our country changed because of 911. There truly was a different tone in our nation and people embraced one another freely. I agree, Laurie. We need to put aside our grievances and disagreements and find ways to connect and understand one another. Thanks for sharing this encouragement!

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  14. So very true Laurie, I’m finding that to be the case after the bushfires here in Australia, everyone was so running on adrenaline for so long and then we were all euphoric and generous and now everyone is a bit tired and snippy about everything – just a normal reaction to disaster I would say but it’s hard going at times. I like talking to strangers and love going out to brunch, I’ll join you anytime πŸ™‚ A lovely post about connections.

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  15. Laurie I think we’ve all become more insular with the advent of the internet and also the whole terrorism thing. It allows us to avoid people – to talk via FB Messenger, or text or a cheap mobile phone plan. We worry about strangers, we see all the ugliness and forget the good stuff is still out there. There’s nothing better than an exchanged smile with an acquaintance when you’re out walking or at the shops. I love our church community for that too – nobody there is in my inner circle, but there are a lot of friends there who make up my wider circle and I like that they keep me social and engaged IRL and not just online. This was a great reminder to us all (though I won’t be talking to stranger on planes any time soon!)

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    • Yes, we need those reminders that good stuff is out there as well as all the obvious ugliness. Maybe talking to strangers on airplanes is taking it a step too far! πŸ™‚

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  16. Such valid points! I moved to a new country with my husband 3 years ago and we knew no one – now I can’t keep up with all my social connections. From Pilates classes to mum friends to residents in our new estate. Thanks for sharing your thoughts #globalblogging

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  17. Such An Interesting Post And Even Better, A Thought Provoking Post – Like The Airplane Headphone Use – It Always Sounds Good To Be The Better Person But – Its Amazing To Me To See Someones Reaction When I Make Small Talk In The Grocery Line – Again, Excellent Post And Be Well

    Cheers

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  18. Thank you so much for this important reminder Laurie. I am quite introverted around people I don’t know. Running has been a great way to meet and engage with others of the same interest. There are so many different ways we can connect with others through common interests. Even through a tragedy, such as you mention 9/11. It does draw people together. Thank you again Laurie.

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  19. Hi Laurie, Your post is timely, on many levels. You remind me how school is much more than just learning the three R’s (do people even use this phrase nowadays:) You are right, about the importance of real-life, human-to-human personal interaction. I am very fortunate I have had the opportunity to meet a few bloggers this past year. It was a comfortable meeting, as if we have been friends a long time. It also felt surreal to actually meet in real life. Our relationship was brought to a new, special level of sharing.

    Tears brimming when you described your students on 9/11. An excellent post, Laurie!

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  20. Laurie, I love the reminder of how kind everyone was after 9/11. It’s so true. We, as a nation, have changed so much since the days that followed 9/11. It’s easy to hide behind a screen and only show the world (or at least our followers) what we want them to see. But depth happens, genuine, authentic relationship happens best face-to-face. The people I’ve met in the blog-o-sphere that I’ve also met in person hold a very special place in my heart. the people I’ve met and become friends with at church are “my people.” It happens when we engage in person.

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    • I have never met any bloggers in real life, but I would love to, Jeanne. I believe our interactions through our blogs would serve as a lengthy, in-depth introduction. We could skip many of the preliminaries and get right down to some real sharing.

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  21. Laurie, I’ve made so many connections through shared pain and grief. It’s actually been a blessing to help others along the same path I’ve traveled.

    Thanks for posting these important reminders.

    Thank you for linking up at InstaEncouragements!

    Liked by 1 person

  22. Very relevant post and thank you for sharing your personal experience with 9/11. We in Australia saw it unfold in the wee hours of the morning…and then on and on. We all were connected then. We felt the same for our Sydney Olympics in 2000. Such a great spirit around our city then. Chatting to people from all over the world, swapping badges and being friendly.

    In Australia we are at ‘war’ with ideologies, lack of real leadership, the “us” vs “them” mentality and I truly do not know where it will stop. I see it similarly around the world.

    For now I do connect on-line over the world (thank you blog) but also every day when I am out for a coffee or at shopping. Each person I interact with I talk about their day and how they are going. It’s as important for me as for them that I do this!

    Thank you for being part of Life This Week. Next Week’s optional prompt is 8/51 Unusual 23/2/2020. Hope to see you link up again too! Denyse.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I have never been to the Olympics but I would love to someday for just the reasons you describe.

      The “us” vs. “them” mentality is alive and well in our country too, unfortunately. The attitude is “Either you’re for us or against us”. I don’t like it one bit.

      The ability to connect with people all over the world is the best thing about blogging. I feel like I have so many happy and satisfying connections with other bloggers, including you!

      Thank you for hosting. See you next week.

      Like

  23. having chronic illness can isolate a person. When I was at my worst my FB friends who I adore kept me sane and would check up on me. I now volunteer at an Opportunity Shop two half days a week and some of that time Im on the counter. I also play darts one night a week and we have made many friends who love darts and we visit each others place to play a few games have a chat and nibbles. I have also joined a club called View and we raise money for the Smith Family who help children reach their potential at school. I still however like my days where I can sit on the couch and just write my blog or watch TV. I have had some great conversations on flights and sometimes I just want to watch the movie. #SeniSal

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  24. I have always loved connecting with people in real life. We live in a different age and time that takes the focus off of connections because we mistakenly believe we are connecting via social media. I will admit I am not good at striking up conversations on an airplane but give me a friend and a cup of coffee any day. I love having conversations like this.

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    • Yes, I can remember going with my mom for drop-in visits when I was a little girl. We don’t do that anymore. I love conversations with a friend over coffee too. In fact, I have one on the schedule for tomorrow! πŸ™‚

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  25. I know I am often guilty of “hunkering down in isolation” – especially in these winter months – but I know how vital and important community is. I need to work harder at reaching out. And connecting. Thanks for the reminder.

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  26. Laurie,
    I think you’ve hit a nerve here….A friend of mine and I went to a “hipster” coffee bar. We soon discovered that we were the only ones actually having a conversation. Others, mostly much younger, were line up side by side with laptop screens flipped up. I think the art of conversation is a lost and dying art. Joining with you to keep it going!
    Blessings,
    Bev xx

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ugh! I hate when I see friends or, worse yet, a couple out for dinner or coffee and not talking to each other because they are engrossed on their phones. What a waste of good human company!

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  27. Oh, Laurie, thank you for linking this post up with us for Wellness Weekend. Wise words. I tend to break into a natural smile around children, especially those I saw at Walmart as it used to be because many of them were my students. But now days I smile when I see a young adult looking at me twice. As they could be former students who have grown up!

    Smiles are such easy gifts to give, along with a hello, or a quick, sincere compliment. You never know when your smile might be the first one a passerby has seen all day. #WW2020

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    • I know what you mean. I live in the same town where I used to teach. Former students are everywhere! You are so right – smiles are easy gifts to give. Thank you for hosting!

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  28. My admiration goes out to those students who risked (and got) suspension for a worthy cause. Pretty sure they’re not the kids who’d ever cut classes otherwise. And you’re so right about 9/11: we were brought together and invested in taking care of one another. As much as I agree with you about W’s initial messaging to the nation, the followup was a failure in leadership: we were ready and willing, and in fact wanting, to take positive, unified action, even to make sacrifices. We could have all come together in massively reducing our use of fossil fuels, for instance, which would have done so much to defang the bad actors in the Middle East. I truly hope it doesn’t take the equivalent of another 9/11 to bring us together again β€” but if such a thing happens, I hope we make positive and lasting use of it. Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The sad thing, Jan, is that when they were protesting outside the cafeteria, students inside were yelling homophobic insults at them. Talk about making a point! Luckily, the protesting students are now in dialog with the administration and I am sure all the press coverage didn’t hurt their clout. I hope they can make some positive changes.

      So true about the whole “WMD” scenario after 9/11 being a failure in leadership. At least W could talk a good game for a week or 2. The Current Occupant can’t even do that with the coronavirus epidemic. My disgust grows daily.

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