This I Believe | Take time to talk to strangers

Sometimes I think we’re too closed off. We’re too afraid to smile at the mail carrier passing us on the sidewalk or to strike up a friendly conversation with the person next to us in the elevator.

We opt instead to look down at our phones or up at the ceiling. I’ll admit it’s easy for me to get wrapped up in myself. But a chance encounter challenged me to take an interest in the lives of others.

I believe in talking to strangers.

It was a summer day. I was in a mall in New Jersey, visiting Brittney, my best friend from college. She wanted to get her nails done, but I decided to get lunch instead and wait for her.

After paying for my food at the food court, it suddenly dawned on me that I had no one to eat with. Meekly, I scanned my surroundings; I felt like the new girl on the first day of school, making the momentous decision of where to sit.

It was a particularly busy day, and almost every table was full. I almost gave up on finding a seat. And then my eyes rested on a man to my left, who was staring off into the distance and eating alone.

He looked to be in his mid-50s. He was wearing khakis and a tightly buttoned plaid shirt. He stared straight ahead as he wolfed down his plate of Chinese food. With only a briefcase with him, it looked like he was just there for a quick lunch break.

I know we’re taught not to talk to strangers, but I figured a crowded food court was safe. Before I could second-guess myself, I strode up to his table and introduced myself.

“Hi, my name’s Kristin. I have no one to eat with, and I was wondering if I could join you for lunch?”

He answered with, “It would be my pleasure, little lady.”

The warmth behind his reply surprised me. He pulled out a chair for me and introduced himself as Noah. Before long, we were talking about everything from school to love, family and friendships. I was surprised by his wisdom, but even more surprised by how easy it was talk to someone I had just met.

We talked for over an hour, but eventually Noah needed to go back to work. He told me I was beautiful and smart and said he enjoyed my company, even if it was just for a little while.

I watched him fade into the crowd, marveling at how a stranger had entered my life so briefly and meaningfully. I met up with Brittney a few minutes later, and when she asked if I enjoyed my lunch alone, I said, “I didn’t eat alone. I ate with a friend.”

Noah showed me how rewarding it can be to engage with the people around me.

Sure, I sometimes still look down at my phone when I find myself with strangers. But now I try to remember to look up and reach out once in a while, knowing that I might make a friend.

I believe in talking to strangers.