I learned a big lesson about acceptance and not judging someone by appearances. Last week on my way home from Chicago to Kansas City, I was tickled at first because it appeared I would have both seats to myself on the train. Having both seats to stretch out on is a rare luxury, and after two days of traveling, I was tired and just wanted to get home.
But right before the train departed, a young man came bustling down the aisle to sit next to me. One side of his head was shaved; the rest of his curly hair was a shock of both blonde and pink locks. His lips were pierced and he was an exceptionally big man, both in height and width. And he had the worst cold I’ve seen in a long time–continual sneezing, coughing, and stuffiness.
As he sat down beside me, I tried to make myself as small as possible to allow him, his bag, and pillow to squeeze in. I wound up crunched against the window, listening to his hacking. After trying to sleep, but unable to due to being cramped (he was half on top of me), I decided to head to the observation car for a bit and eat dinner.
As I tried to escape, he softly said, “I’m sorry for making you uncomfortable.”
That touched my heart and I thought about it as I ate dinner. Every single time I have ridden on the train, I have met someone I connected with deeply. I wondered about this young man. Why was he sitting by me? I don’t normally judge, so I wondered if my crankiness and eagerness to get home were affecting my judgment. I decided that this could not be different than any other trip: either I needed to meet him, or he needed to meet me. So I went back to my seat.
By this point, he was sitting by the window. When he offered to move back to the aisle, I told him to stay put as it would give me more room to have the aisle seat.
“I thought you wouldn’t come back,” he said.
We started talking and it turned out this sweet young man had lost his mother the year before. A senior in high school, he was trying to decide what to do with his life. We chatted and joked the last several hours of the trip.
As we got ready to de-train, a lady sitting across the aisle said, “You two are way too comfortable with each other. If I hadn’t seen it, I’d never believe you just met a few hours ago.” And we were comfortable.
I hadn’t planned to share this story of my intolerance and original judgment, but I keep thinking about him and his journey. We never know someone’s story–and where their heart lies–and we surely can’t tell it by a first impression. And even though he was desperately craving the attention of a mother figure, I benefited from the connection as much as he did. That coincidental meeting was meant for us both.