I was barely out of my teens and I had arrived at Chicago’s Union Station by train on my first big North American adventure! The noise of people, traffic, trains and announcements seemed overwhelming. We needed to get to our youth hostel. This was the days of no internet, no cell phones and no google maps! (Yes, I am that old).
We must have looked lost with our back packs, maps as we struggled to find the bus that would take us from the station to our hostel which was out in the Chicago suburbs!
A homeless guy came up to us and offered help. We firmly and politely refused it. I assume we were slightly terrified! He offerred help again. We refused again. Finally, we walked off and followed the directions the hostel had mailed to us. This meant making a loop around the station. Coming out of a door ten minutes later, we were startled to find him standing there. He laughed when he saw us saying” You know you were 30 yards from this door and you have taken ten minutes to get here“. We felt sheepish, as he kindly pointed us to the number 8 bus and refused our offers of a dollar. “You are my guests here”.
This experience, amongst many others has taught me to be open to strangers. For every person who has asked me for money in the ensuing decades, I would say 150 people have been helpful, friendly and/or kind. I have life long friends with strangers who have invited me for meals, bought me coffees and even given me a bed for a night!
So put down your laptop, your kindle, your phone or your book and say “hi” to the person sitting next to you. Ask someone if you can join them for a meal if you are sitting alone in hotel, hostel or restaurant. Accept help and show interest. Who knows where it might end up.