by Danielle Lorberbaum
Life has a way of surprising us. It’s funny, because I knew what I wanted to say here, but when I actually began to write, the point behind my story just continued to unfold. People are truly incredible if you find room to let them in.
We constantly pass by faces that might be memorized, familiar, or yet unknown. I thrive on getting to know those unfamiliar faces. To know what’s beyond the eyes and look into the heart of every individual I meet. That’s why I’ve learned to love the underappreciated beauty of encounters with random people, like group trips and on planes-you meet so many different types of people, and can turn strangers into friends.
I thrive on travel and people. It’s more uncommon for me to sit silently next to someone on a plane than leave with a new Facebook friend, business card, or knowing a piece about something important to a person I will most likely never see again. I’ve been on quite a few plane rides and on three group trips now. The last two summers I spent a week serving underprivileged villagers in Panama and Nicaragua alongside a crew of Chapman students. It was what initially gave me the travel bug, and made me realize that not even language or culture can break the connection you can build with total strangers.
Panama was the first time I went out of the country without my family. The conditions were worse than any camping trip I had been on: there was little to no running water for showers or toilets, lots of bugs, unfamiliar food, and I slept under a mosquito net on the top bunk in a room shared with at least 30 other people. I didn’t think I could ever do it again and I wasn’t even sure if the mission I was doing there was worth the discomfort I felt.
But then I met a little girl and her family. I still don’t even know their names. My Spanish was terrible and they knew no English. The thing is, it didn’t matter. She must have been four, and we played for a couple hours, enjoying every moment of the others’ company.
That night our group picked jobs to help community members for the last day. Everyone rushed to pick, and the rare feistiness in me came out for everyone to pass the paper and wait their turn. When the paper came to me, I wrote my name under my top choice. The girl next to me asked if she could have my spot because she had wanted to do that one with a friend. I agreed and put myself down for my second choice. Because of this, I believe in fate.
The next morning we walked up to our prospective houses. To my disbelief, I ended up at the one belonged to the family of the little girl I met. After our quick chores, everyone left to help at another house, but I asked to stay. I got an hour in their home, spending time with her and her family. Her father cut me some of their home-grown fruit and praised me for the work we came to do. He told me I had a family in Panama.
Getting on the bus, I wiped tears from my eyes. We were waiting for everyone to settle down when she and her dad walked into the village center, and climbed on the bus. She walked down the aisle to give me one last hug. I’ll never forget her.
This past January, I went on a birthright trip to Israel. My entire extended family lives there, so it was the least expensive way for me to get to go see them again. I had no positive expectations as I figured the people on my trip would annoying and over-excited to be in a new place with little supervision. I just wanted to get it over with.
Before departing on our flight, I befriended siblings who had gone on the trip together. We spent the next ten days together and still talk all the time. Some people clashed with my personality, but I learned to see past the things I disliked or couldn't understand and look past it to appreciate other parts of their personalities.
Long story short, on the bus ride dropping us all off at the airport to go our separate ways, I didn’t want it to end. That is a family of 45 I will absolutely never forget.
A few weeks later I got a package in the mail from the siblings, sending me homemade Valentine’s Day chocolates. They found my mom online to ask her for my address so they could surprise me. You don’t meet people like that everyday. And when you do, you hold onto them tight.
And then I got down to write about these experiences. It’s been an awful day. I haven’t slept. I have tons of work to catch up on. I am across the country for a funeral. I wait at the airport for my flight and find my debit card balance has been spent at a Starbucks in another state and spend the rest of the time trying to get ahold of my bank to cancel my card. I get on the plane and have my middle seat bumped to a window seat: my favorite. I have an interesting conversation with the man sitting in my row about careers and passions and we talk for awhile. This flight is late, so upon arrival at my layover, I have to sprint to my next location. I’m worn out and grumpy. I sit in the middle seat, bitching to my mom on the phone about this crappy day.
A few minutes later the woman sitting next to me giggles to herself while flipping through the SkyMall magazine. “Find something interesting?” I ask her. And that was it. Her laugh was infectious and from it, my mood was instantly brightened. The young man sitting on the other side of me and I join her in the adventure of discovering the useless items you can find in SkyMall. An hour later, we are still laughing, sharing photos, stories and experiences.
Will I see them again? Probably not, but in the moment they shaped my life from being bitter to happy, and what more could I ask for? It never ceases to amaze me how a simple conversation can bring two strangers together. And change the course of your life.