Editor’s note: Neil Rosenthal is off this week. This is from “The Best of Neil Rosenthal” series.
Imagine the following: You are running late to meet a friend for lunch. Because you are in a hurry, you find yourself speeding down an icy road. A police car spots you, pulls you over and tickets you for speeding. You curse your bad luck. When the police officer finally lets you go, you pass by a major car wreck — just blocks from where you were stopped. You pull over to lend assistance and discover that the driver is hurt. She got in an icy skid and slammed into a telephone pole a minute or two before you drove by. You help her out of her car, call for help, take your jacket off and wrap it around her because she is cold. You also call your lunch date and reschedule your luncheon, apologizing for the short notice.
How probable would it be that you and the driver — who you stay with until help arrives — might become close friends? What would you guess the chances would be that it could have been you that slammed into that telephone pole if the police officer hadn’t pulled you over? If you were the hurt driver, would you feel affection or gratitude for the person who rescued you?
Throughout most days of our life, we have chance encounters with people or situations that can be — and often are — life transforming. Think back for a moment. How did you meet your spouse/sweetheart/lover? Although there are the personals or online matchmaking sites, most people meet the person of their dreams through a chance encounter, like at a grocery store, a dance class or while waiting for your car to be fixed; or in a doctor’s waiting room.
How did you meet the person you view as your closest friend? Your first girlfriend/boyfriend? Your first love? When has an author unexpectedly influenced you? How about someone who has had a significant impact on the profession or job you’ve chosen? When has a movie you saw, a book you read, a speaker you heard or a teacher you once had changed your life?
In every chance encounter, we have the option of being open and receptive to strangers we come into contact with — or we can be closed and unavailable, wrapped up in the preoccupations of our ongoing personal sagas.
But it pays off very handsomely to be open and receptive to the people we come into contact with. I remember meeting a fellow in a spontaneous classroom exercise my freshman year of college who has become a very close lifelong friend. Another time I worked with a professor/therapist who would wind up profoundly influencing my life’s work and my choice of profession. I once met a woman attending a party (which I almost didn’t go to) who would turn out to catch my eye, even though that relationship didn’t last. And I met the woman of my dreams in a restaurant that I was hesitant to go to.
If you think about it, your life is sprinkled with such transformational chance encounters that you never would have imagined, but they happened all the same. So my advice: Stay open to the people you meet on those seemingly random encounters when fate throws the two of you together. Think for a moment: When has someone lent you a helping hand when you were in need, like the driver described above? When were you in the right place at the right time for a total stranger? How many people do you think you come into contact with on a daily/weekly/monthly basis that would be receptive to having a new friend — or would be receptive to falling in love?
A chance encounter is the ultimate serendipity, an accident of happy coincidence or good fortune that happens to you unexpectedly. Such encounters do not occur every day, but they do happen. And yes, they have the capacity to completely transform or alter your life. Make sure you feel safe and are in no danger, but after that, be open to the next time that life unexpectedly throws you together with someone unknown.
You never know.
Neil Rosenthal is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Westminster and Boulder. His column is in its 21st year of publication and is syndicated around the world. You can reach him at 303-758-8777 or email him through his website at www.heartrelationships.com. He is not able to respond individually to queries.