Wednesday, as I was taking the final count of the cash drawer at the dance studio where work, I heard a voice.
No, not a voice in my head. A real voice.
It startled me at first, reminding myself that one: I had not yet closed the door to the studio, and two: I was going to have to stay past closing to help this customer. The clock struck 7:30 p.m., my stomach growled and my eyes began to droop. Yes, it was only 7:30, but after all, I am a second semester senior.
I turned around to see a man about my father’s age, juggling papers in one hand and a checkbook in another. He had a smile painted across his face and a relived sigh as our eyes met, as if he’d sprinted to the dance studio from his house. He was determined to get here. I was determined to reunite with my bed.
But as he approached, I couldn’t help but notice that his smile was contagious. He spread his papers out on the desk, and in an apologetic tone, explained how he knew these papers were late, but needed to turn them in.
He said his wife used to be good at this kind of stuff.
And that’s where his story began.
He was a single dad, trying to juggle the schedules of three kids after working all day. He needed to sign his daughter up for her classes, but explained he couldn’t be the working father and the soccer mom. Something’s got to give.
Never did the smile disappear.
After a brief introduction, we got to talking. We got to laughing. We got to sharing. This stranger whose voice appeared in the doorway only moments earlier was letting me into his life. Sharing his story with me. Going on about how much he loves his kids, but worries about them in different ways. How he knows they’ll all be just fine. How he lost his wife years earlier, and has now resulted to being the keeper of all dance forms. How you never know something until you ask.
We got to talking about college, the future, mutual acquaintances, even memories.
The words “Britni, it was great to meet you” exited his mouth numerous times, but the conversation never ended. I looked up at the clock and it was 40 minutes past closing. I was still smiling.
I was no longer tired, I was intrigued. Intrigued that such an “unfortunate” appearance could have made such a lasting impression on me. And intrigued how it’s possible to show up at the right place, at the right time. But mostly, intrigued to know how many similar conversations I’ve missed over the years because I was always in such a rush.
Such a rush to move on to the next thing, such a rush to get in and get out. Check another thing off of my list, rather than appreciating the moment. I have a quote in my room that reads, “The past is a ghost, the future a dream, and all we ever have is now.” I don’t know who said it, just a random, inspiration quote that popped up when I typed that exact criteria into Google one day, but none of that matters. It’s the words that do. And as the days cross off until I make my way to the University of Michigan in only a few months, the now factor seems more precious than anything.
If I had rushed out of the dance studio Wednesday night, this conversation that I can recall in greater detail than my lesson on parametric equations only hours ago would have been a lost cause. Lost.
Taking the time to chat with a stranger and get to know someone new won’t kill you—isolating yourself from such situations might. You never know how one conversation can put a real spin on your day, even change the way you look at things. Hey, your smile can be the contagious one. So, kind stranger, if you’re reading this, it was nice to meet you too.