Last week something really beautiful happened to me and I have been meaning to write about it for awhile. Sadly, though, finals week has been keeping me busy poring over lamp lit textbooks and typing away until the early hours of the morning.
But, this is one of those moments that I feel is important to document and share in some way, and I hope that it, in turn, gives you, my readers, a renewed sense of optimism.
This is a story about friendship and how it can be found in the most unexpected places.
I was sitting in a Starbucks last Friday evening keeping warm with a peppermint mocha tucked in between my fingers. The long wooden table I had laid out my newspaper on top of had a few other people sitting around it, talking softly, their voices sweetly blending together the way marshmallows carefully melt into cups of hot chocolate.
And as I turned through the creased pages of a Chicago Tribune brimming with intimately detailed columns about local establishments and people that sometimes go unnoticed and longer investigative pieces about potential corruption lurking beneath the vibrant, pounding surface of the city, I couldn’t help but catch excerpts of one of the conversations happening across from me.
Two people, who were from out of town from what I could gather, were talking about Chicago in bouncy, dazzled voices as they pivoted from one topic to the next, discussing everything from music to current events. One of them, a young man, spoke in a rich German accent that boldly contrasted that of the woman sitting next to him speaking in a breezy midwestern tone.
The woman had a bright red camera and stylish purple floppy hat sitting on the table in front of her that caught my eye and both of their hands were neatly folded around plain red cups as they took sips from their unknown contents intermittently between short breaks in the conversation.
And as I half-listened between the heavy coughs, light breaths, and soft murmurs coming from behind the counter where coffee was being brewed by familiarized hands, I eventually learned that the young woman was a journalism student, like myself.
At one point I even overheard them both talking about wanting to attend grad school in the city, where I am currently enrolled at Columbia College Chicago. As I continued to listen and draw parallels between my life and theirs, I became more and more tempted to jump on board the conversation.
Now, it is important to note that while I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself to be a shy person, I am definitely not one to randomly strike up conversations with strangers.
Although, I do find myself in these situations quite often where I’ll be wedged in between two people on a CTA train and one of them will mention a band I like and I will get the sudden urge to ask them what their favorite song is, or as I’m running errands I will pass by someone on the street who is sporting the same coat I purchased a few weeks back from that one department store and I will then want to throw them a playful compliment that might sound like this:
“Hey, I must say, you have an awesome sense of style,” I’d say, facetiously indicating to the coat I’m wearing.
“Haha! How cool! Yeah, I love this coat. It definitely keeps you warm during these brutal Chicago winters!”
More often than not, though, I let these moments pass by in silence.
It could be anything that captures my attention, from a book someone is carrying, a newspaper they’re peering through on the bus, a friendly face, a beautiful smile or a unique outfit and I will find myself swallowing back my words.
There is always that awkward sense of uncertainty that curls up like a ball in my stomach, rolling around as I brainstorm all the different entrances I can make into the conversation.
In the end, I always end up with a head full of what ifs.
What if I annoy them? What if they do not wish to speak with strangers? What if they think I’m weird?
The list goes on.
No one likes rejection, even if it is coming from a total stranger.
Despite my nerves, though, I didn’t allow my mind to wander too far and before I could catch my breath, politely asked, “Are you a journalism student?”
To which the woman replied in a surprised but welcoming tone, "Yes, yes I am!"
And so began a wonderful and warm conversation in the middle of a cozy little coffee shop, slowly getting to know each other, as people weaved their way in and out around us, learning little tidbits here and there like where home is, places we’ve traveled and future career goals.
They eventually asked me if I wanted to accompany them to find some live jazz music, to which I was more than happy to take part in. Although we weren’t able to find a jazz artist that was playing that night, we did catch some saturated blues notes and soulful chord progressions at Buddy Guys, where a guitarist sat on stage under blue and purple lights, completely absorbed by the music.
But the highlight of the night was definitely afterward when we decided to check out the Christkindlmarket on Washington St, which my new German friend said to me reminded him of the ones back home.
The market that night had a certain innocence to it, filled with the laughter and light-hearted conversations of people huddled together, keeping warm, their hands tightly wrapped around cups of spiced wines and hot apple cider, surrounded by holiday string lights and bright red ribbons, bells, and Christmas wreaths.
The sweet scent of fried dough and powdered sugar intermingled with that of hearty bratwursts as people carried their food around with them on tiny paper trays. A variety of vendors could be seen selling everything from hand-made carved wooden toys to sparkling intricately detailed ornaments.
And as I stood with my new found friends in the middle of this life-size snow globe village, I couldn’t help but think to myself how beautiful this life is.
That is my message to you, my readers, whoever you are and wherever you may be, always remember that people are kinder than you may think, and if you are feeling lost or lonely, I promise you, opportunities and friendships will continue to sneak up on you.
Sometimes all you need to do is say hello.
Filed under: Personal Musings