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Strangers on a Train


Sometimes teaching is right in front of us and we are ignoring it. Sometimes we even actively avoid it.

Case in point: I was coming home from a meeting on Sunday and had just missed the BART train. When you miss a train on a Sunday it is an automatic 20 minute wait. I planned to settle into a book. A man came rushing onto the platform, realized he, too, had just missed the train, and ended up near me. We commiserated about the Sunday schedule, chatted for a bit, and then I prepared once again to read my book. He kept asking me questions. I would talk briefly, then start to go back into introvert in a public transit station mode. Finally – realizing I was letting an opportunity for curiosity get away from me – I put the book away and gave him my attention.

He asked what I do for a living, which led to me explaining the concept of the triple soul to him, and how our lack of alignment affects us and the culture we build. We stood on the platform, a large black man and a small white woman, talking about how we try to engage with the world, about the importance of authenticity in teaching, about showing up from your past to better speak to the present. The conversation grew interesting enough that I chose to sit with him once the train arrived. We ended up having a long conversation about the young men he mentors, many of whom lack fathers. I got to hear about the death of his five year old daughter and how that affected him when he was a young man trying to work his way through college. I was able to tell him about the work I’m doing with Alan Blueford’s family. When he told me some more about how he counsels the teenagers he works with, I could relate that back to our original triple soul conversation and say “That is the animal soul!” He laughed.

Yes, on one hand, he was trying to get my phone number while acting like he wasn’t (“Just text me that information.” I don’t think so.). On the other hand,  we were two humans concerned about our world and sharing how we deal with it.

I left the train feeling grateful for the encounter, grateful for remembering that presence and curiosity are more important than maintaining my own space. This encounter reminded me of why I choose to not wear headphones in public places: I want to see what the world has to offer. Conversations like this are part of the gift of engagement. We isolate too much from one another.

Last Sunday, I allowed a barrier in myself to soften. I learned something. It made me wonder how much we miss on a regular basis. 

This week, I wonder if we can all do an experiment and allow ourselves just one encounter that we might otherwise avoid. Can we meet the stranger on the train?

I’d also like to hear about times you have done this in the past. Please share them with us. I’d love to read the reasons why you have avoided encounters, too. Perhaps we can all teach one another how to better navigate this often bewildering territory between the public and the private, between shared spaces and our own unfolding souls.

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