Some of the best things in my life almost never happened.
So there I was, nervous as all get out but attempting nonchalance by leaning against the cinderblock walls. I was waiting for my youngest son as he finished his first day of preschool.
The cool moms, to a woman clad in variations of the right workout gear, were all animatedly chatting. I longed to be animatedly chatting too but rarely managed it. I was usually uncomfortable because I could never figure out the right thing to wear at the right time or say the right thing at the right moment. To be fair, the women seemed nice. They probably were. But at that moment those women felt as distant and as unapproachable to me as the perfectly coiffed celebrities in People Magazine. This is a magazine, by the way, I profess to hate but will always read if a copy is in front of me.
As I was counting the minutes until my escape, I spotted a woman I’d seen earlier in the morning. We’d been at the elementary school helping set up the book fair, but we were rushed, we were working and we hadn’t actually met. I was sure she wouldn’t recognize me. If she did I was sure she didn’t want to bother talking to me. And so, not to humiliate myself, I pretended I hadn’t seen her. Like a little kid, I was actually staring at my shoes.
But then there were four shoes in my lowered field of vision, not just two. It was that woman of course. She said she saw me this morning at school and she also had a son in the other preschool class. She was going to take her son back to work at the elementary book fair in the afternoon. She asked if my son and were I going back there too.
We were. I said I’d meet her there. But the little boys hadn’t had lunch. So I didn’t head straight to the school. I went home. I packed two lunches: one for my son and one for hers and headed back over to the school to meet her. She reached out—I reached back.
This is the story of how I almost missed meeting the person who became one of my closest friends. And because I was so desperately shy, my son almost missed meeting the little boy who became, and still is, his best friend.
I was hot, grubby, and seriously underdressed when I got the call at work. There was a dinner party at some elegant spot on the Upper East Side. The person on the other end of the line was actually begging me to come to this dinner. I was clearly a last minute fill in—she denied it. She applied some serious pressure—naturally I caved. There was no time to go home to change.
I arrived at the restaurant early, but couldn’t make myself walk through the door. I circled the block once. Then twice. Then again and again and again. Panic was rising with every circuit. I was going to bail out on this thing. I could feel it. A million excuses crowded my brain I but couldn’t figure out which one sounded most plausible. At last, my immense sense of guilt about sneaking away overcame my immense sense of panic. I pushed myself through the front door and was directed to a long table. There was one chair left and I slid into it. I found myself seated across from a tall, thin man with distinctive horn-rimmed glasses and a very kind face. He was nice. In fact, he was much more than that. Had I used but one of my many excuses and headed back to Brooklyn I would have missed meeting the man who would eventually become my beloved husband, my soul-mate, the excellent and deeply caring father to our three sons and numerous cats.
Some of us are born knowing how to make small talk seem effortless, know when it’s proper to kiss on one cheek or two, know how to look people in the eye and really listen to what they’re saying.
Some of us are not.
I was lucky twice and who knows how many times more. But how many connections had I missed by not reaching out? What had I missed? Who had I missed? And then I realized an extraordinary thing.
I never knew the color of anyone’s eyes. I couldn’t know—how could I if I wasn’t really looking at them, focusing on them?
So I forced myself to look up and really look at people, not just at who they appeared to be but who they really might be. You can tell by the eyes.
A long time ago a woman reached out across a hallway to me and became my friend. A man with a kind face reached out to me across a table and became my husband.
It’s my turn to reach out first and wait for the reach back. When I really look in people’s eyes what I most often see is kindness.