The “food to go” section of most airport restaurants isn’t exactly a lively place. A lone employee usually works the stand, and on this occasion, the young man – roughly 19, pimply-faced, with the requisite black hair-net – had his radio on to keep him company. Much to my surprise, the station was playing a Frank Sinatra classic, and the young man was singing along, very quietly, almost under his breath, as he put together my order and ran my credit card. What can I tell you, I couldn’t resist, and Boomer that I am, I knew the song well enough to sing along as well. With that, the young man smiled, and as we sang together I was amazed to realize he knew all the words – better than I did - and even styled his singing with much of the Sinatra flair.
As he handed me my order, I said “Wow, that was great! Thanks so much!” and he replied, “Yeah, that’s cause we made a connection.” With that, we “good-byed” and I was off.
But his words kept resounding in my mind; “cause we made a connection.” I thought, how cool is that!? A Boomer, dressed in my business-woman getup, and a young man still in his teens, restaurant worker with hair-net included, making a connection. Not only that, a connection that the young man recognized, willingly expressed, and brought to my delighted attention.
So much of the time we are so busy looking for degrees of separation, for how different we are from one another, how un-alike we are. We look at everyone with a critical eye, noticing how we would never wear that, and why is she doing that, and what is wrong with him to be doing that?
And yet, truth be told, there are a zillion ways in which we can make a connection, no matter how apparently different we may be. A zillion ways in which we can find similarities between ourselves and others, points of connection rather than dis-connection.
If indeed, the world is to become an increasingly peaceful place, then it will have to be by seeking how we can connect, not by how much we can push against what’s different.
If you’d asked me, ten minutes before my encounter with the young man, what a 19-year-old in a hairnet and I had in common, I’d probably have been stumped with “Well, we’re both humans.” It would never have occurred to me that we’d have fun singing together, much less that he would see that as a point of connection, and teach me something oh-so-valuable about connection.
So, whether it’s at home with your teenager or taking care of your elderly parent, for example, ask yourself: “What’s a point of connection here? What, for example, can I relate to with my teenage daughter/elderly parent, striving mightily to assert her right to have whatever it is her way?” Maybe the fundamental desire for freedom of self-expression, that we all long for. Maybe you can stop your “No! You can’t!” just long enough to value her fierce determination to be her own person, even as you stand your ground with whatever constraint you impose as her loving parent or daughter.
And when you go about your day, moving through your world, ask yourself of everyone you meet or pass by: “What might be a point of connection with this person?” Sometimes it’s easy to spot: someone smiles at you, you smile back. You appreciate what someone is wearing, or how they are interacting with someone else.
When it’s not obvious, make it up! What do you know? Maybe that kid zooming by on his skateboard draws a mean caricature, and would love to share the “how to” with you, who’ve always longed to wield a wicked pencil. Maybe the homeless person shuffling along has that one pearl of wisdom that would light up your life.
Or maybe, just maybe, you’d be lucky enough to sing Sinatra with a pimply-faced 19 year old sporting a black hair-net.
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