Strangers on a Plane (Friend-Working)


I have a new friend. We met a year ago today on an airplane. She was flying into Boston for work, and I was on my way home from a school reunion. We’d both dressed in our ‘plane’ clothing and had books to read, with no intention of anything other than keeping ourselves individually occupied during the flight (like most people do).

Somehow, we started talking. Then our conversation continued off the plane and into my waiting friend’s car until we dropped her off downtown. The conversation was an assortment of personal observations, interspersed with information on what to do in Boston.  If I hadn’t had to rush home that day, the three of us would have probably spent the afternoon together.  I knew nothing about her as far as the basics go (age, marital status, number of children, etc.); I just knew that we talked well together, and I enjoyed it. Before we parted, we exchanged Facebook information. I told her to take a picture of herself near a specific statue and post it for me before the day was over (which she did. Good girl!).

After that, there were the occasional comments on posts, the ‘likes’ and the random base-touching that everyone on Facebook shares.

Two days ago she was in town again. Through Facebook she let me know ahead of time in case we could get together. I picked her up from the airport and we got to spend a few short hours together in a whirlwind tour of Boston.  

How great is that?

At one point I thanked her for reaching out to me to let me know she’d be coming back, and we talked about how some people could consider it unusual to randomly take up with a stranger like we did with each other.  I think she said that even her husband was slightly surprised that she was making plans with ‘that girl she met on the plane’.

She is my friend.  I knew that almost as soon as we started talking on the flight last year. If her trips to Boston continue as annually as they seem to be starting out to be, I expect to see her each time she’s in town (I have her next two visits planned out already), and I need to start thinking about a trip to Minnesota (but not until the statue of Mary Tyler Moore is back up).

Who ever really knows what will come out of meeting or interacting with a person for the first time?

Friendship is often taken for granted; the first reason is probably because most of them begin geographically – who lives closest to you, or whose desk is closest to yours in class.  Then, friendships become almost situational, circumstantial, and organization-based – who you work with, people who share the same marital or parental status, and activity/theme/church-exclusive groupings.

After we ‘grow up’ we narrow those groupings further down by cherry-picking the people we want to spend the most time with and call only those people friends. We become regular in our habits and lifestyles, and even in those isolated relationships.

For some, friendship turns into responsibility, where it becomes conditional and based on how much time is invested.  Or, it becomes compartmentalized and sorted – like everything else in our lives – in order of importance.

It’s a shame that we forget how to play when we get caught up in our own situations. Do you remember how easy it was to just jump into play with another child at a park? As grownups, we forget how easy that was – or, how actually necessary it still is. We get so bogged down with life that we even forgo outings with friends for a night inside to relax, forgetting how much more we can get out of just playing. I know there have been many times that I’d made arrangements in advance with friends, yet when the night came up I “didn’t feel like it.” The result is always one of two things: I don’t go out and later on wish I had, or I do go out and realize “I should do this more often.”

We even whittle down our groups of friends. Do our friends have to be organized? Bounded? Limited? I find it funny that even on Facebook, where friendships take so little maintenance, that people feel the need to shorten their friends list simply because they have too many and they don’t talk to all of them enough. Too many friends?

There is no such thing as too many friends. If you know that it is really true that a smile can change someone’s day, then you have to be able to see the possibility of one distant acquaintance saying the right something to you at the right moment that has a great impact on you.

We become complacent in our friendships, forgetting how necessary they are until there is some major and unfortunate upheaval in our lives (like divorce or death) – it is only then that we realize how important it is to have friends around us, when we are looking for someone to lean on, and we learn that anyone can be a true friend.

Old friendships provide ground-bases and the comfort of familiarity; new friends provide new perspectives and experiences. Keeping some of them closer than others does not de-value the possibility of impact from those in outermost circles.

There have been so many personal habits adopted as good business tactics (establishing connections, proper greetings, maintaining contact, communication and even apologies). Making the business more personal will improve the business itself. The funny twist is that now these good habits have become largely business practices only. Business journals emphasize the importance of networking, developing contacts and interacting with as many others as you can to improve your career or business, but what about friend-working? Friend-working improves your life.

I don’t believe in coincidences as random occurrences; I believe that they are meant, and that every interaction with a new person is significant. I’m fortunate to have many friends in many different circles (and I enjoy mixing them up together). I have one friend I’ve known since high school; we’ve never really hung out, but we had a random hour together at a bus station shortly after graduation that I will never forget, and she will always be very special to me (I see her only very occasionally now); I have another friend I ‘met’ through a misdirected email – two years later I met her for the first time in person at my wedding, and now 15 years later with no face-to-face contact since (and no marriage, either), we are still very close.

(Don’t get me started on my ‘regular’ friends!)

You never know who is destined to be a part of your life, whether it be solely in the memory of the encounter itself or an actual, lasting friendship (even with limited contact). Their significance lies in the connection felt between you – and, yes, this can be simply a matter of situation and timing, of different stages each are at in life at the time.

Look around you. Smile. Talk to people. Anyone can be your friend.

Everyone can be your friend.

Even a good one.

(Thank you, Jennifer.)
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