Part 1, Written on Jan 8, 2014 on an airplane flying over the middle of America.
I am sitting on a plane right now writing these words, and what better place than in the clouds? When I close my eyes I can imagine the plane away and feel the invisibility of floating dreams drift around me. The boy next to me is listening to rap music that I can hear through his headphones. He write furiously as lyrics come to him and instead of feeling annoyed by the noise I am opened into a new world of art. I feel like I know too much about this stranger but in reality I know too little about everyone else.
Sitting in this airplane I can’t help but think about all of life: the toy cars driving below, and the people all around me who avert their eyes when I smile. I think of all the missed opportunities to connect and to live and to create. But even though I have these thoughts I do nothing. I sit here more willing to write these words on the internet than to speak them to someone sitting next to me.
We are people who can – who have the ability – to hide behind computer screens. And why not? I do not feel smaller for putting so much stock in people I may never meet face to face, and I don’t think anyone should feel less by not putting him or herself out there. But when someone feels fear or anxiety or a hole in life because of making connections, I feel something fundamental is lost in how we connect. Or maybe that’s just me, right now, on this airplane.
I was fortunate enough to have dinner with Jason Groupp who runs WPPI and he spoke to me so passionately about people meeting people and maintaining the waning art form of the Face to Face connection. It is refreshing to know that someone is fighting for it, and I momentarily, and periodically, feel guilty for my shyness. No one must do a thing. No one has to make connections like that. And no connection should be belittled, but all should be considered and gained from, or learned from.
So dear man writing some amazing lyrics on the plane next to me – you taught me something valuable today and I am better for knowing you…or for shyly peaking over at your art. I hope I have the courage to say that to your face. The flight ends in 2 hours – no time to waste.
Part 2, Written on January 9, 2014 as I sit at home and think of that experience.
With one hour left on the flight I asked to get up and use the restroom. When I came back I was settling my things on my lap to continue writing when the man next to me (truly just a man of 18 years) turned to me and asked about my tattoo on my arm. We chatted for a moment for the first time in the previous 4 hours, and it felt good that we were able to.
Right after the tattoo conversation, he asked if I was a writer. He said that he had been looking at the notes I had been scribbling down and reading them, and said he was sorry if that was an intrusion of privacy. He complimented me on the poetry I had been conjuring up. I was breathless. I was so relieved. And in that moment I realized, or remembered, how similar people can be in just the right ways.
I confessed that I had been reading his writing as well, shyly, in small glances from my paper to his phone. I told him how moved I was by what he was writing, and he told me the whole story of his new song – he had just been to NYC to meet his dad for the first time in his life, and he was writing it into a song. I was touched beyond words.
I’m not sure that there is any way to properly express what I want to say, aside from saying that I have been taught the most valuable lesson, one that I needed to learn and that came at the right time. I am not one for making connections in person. I am very shy under these circumstances. But everyone has a story to tell, and it is up to us to make sure that story is being heard.
Do you have a story about connecting with a stranger? I’d love to hear about it. I am constantly inspired by the stories of others and I believe we can inspire one another to pay more attention to those who we often look past, and see good in everyone.
Mary Angelini - Your words have truly inspired me. I am and always have been a really shy person which is rooted in many bad childhood and adult experiences. So you would think it odd that I an a portrait photographer. However, I actually love shooting people and although I haven’t been doing it very long, I have such a passion for it that I am forcing myself to learn to open myself up to people and get to know them. In hanging out my shingle as a portrait photographer I have gotten to meet some really interesting people and it is helping me to get past my fears. Reading about your experience inspires me to keep on this path and to take the opportunity to speak to and interact with strangers even when not in a business setting. That the gifts they have that may enrich my life, and possibly how I may enrich theirs, is worth putting aside fear and being open to possibility. Thank you for all that you share!
brookeshaden - Mary, thank you so much for sharing that. I am truly inspired by your courage to put yourself out there in this way. I myself have considered doing some portrait work for this very reason – more as an exercise to see if I could manage the social side…but I find myself doing this more and more in different ways, and while I rarely succeed in giving myself as wholly to others as I want, I feel like this year might be the year that I break through that wall and really connect with others. Thank you for all that you do.
Tony - I had a similar experience on a short flight from Luton to Edinburgh. As a party of four one of us had to sit in a different row, I ended up sitting next to two young ladies who obviously didn’t know each other. During the flight I sensed that the one sitting next to me was rather anxious, the other was trying to sleep, I started talking to the anxious passenger and continued chatting until we landed, it’s surprising what you can find out in half an hour. The key thing I did find out was that she was not keen on flying, and like my wife, hates landing, but by chatting it took her mind off of flying and she bearly noticed the landing. I also had the other passenger chatting too and found out one was American and the other Spanish, and like me, both we’re visiting Edinburgh for the first time. We do get lost in this modern world of text.
brookeshaden - Aww I love that Tony. The best thing is knowing that your interaction is taking someone’s mind off of a scary flight. I’ve had that happen, so awesome. I love how you put yourself out there, I think it’s really great and admirable.
Mary Angelini - Thank you Brooke – I wish there was a ‘like’ button for what you wrote! I’d totally click it. Like you, this is the year, I stop letting my fear drive and control me…in fact I just wrote a little blog post about that if you are interested: http://maryangeliniphotography.wordpress.com/2014/01/09/the-crippling-effect-of-fear/
Stephanie - I recently took my first flight ever to photograph a friends wedding in Las Vegas. To say that I was nervous to get on the plane after years of building it up in my head as the scariest thing I could ever do would be a huge understatement. But when I got on the plane my husband and I sat next to a man who was flying alone. I like meeting new people and I talk when I’m nervous so I introduced myself to him and asked his name. This evolved into an amazing conversation through the course of our flight. My husband and I are both artists in our own way. I am a photographer, musician, crocheter and have a deep love for all things art related. My husband is a graphic designer, illustrator, and musician. As it turned out, our new friend was a musician as well and was flying home to Vegas after touring with a guy in Austin. We talked about everything from art to how to have a successful marriage when you are both pursuing creative careers. When we parted ways he said that he felt that we were meant to sit next to eachother and that in all of his traveling not once had the person next to him introduced themselves. He told me he was taken aback by that at first, but that he was so thankful that I did and explained that people just don’t communicate like that anymore. I thought that was an amazing thing to hear, but at the same time I had to thank him for opening up to us, inviting us into his life for those few hours, and helping ease all of my tension about my first time flight. I wasn’t expecting this experience at all, but it was a blessing. We need each other.
brookeshaden - Oh Stephanie, this is so uplifting and just the most wonderful thing. I am so grateful that you shared with me. It makes me not only feel like I should, but want to open up to people. You never know who you’re going to meet by simply giving an introduction. The worst that can happen is they don’t take the bait, and at best, you can create a connection that benefits everyone involved. I love your story, thank you for sharing it.
Jody McNary - I don’t have any stories off the top of my head but I work part-time and deal with the public. I try and connect with everyone who walks in the door. Always a smile and a Good Morning. Most people are surprising surprised by the greeting. Like they have never heard it before!! This totally astonishing to me.
…but what is cool about all of this, most people do say Good Morning back. Hopefully they will take this and pass it on.
have a Great Safe Trip!!
brookeshaden - That is wonderful Jody. I love that you can touch lives like that – I am always so happy when someone seems genuinely interested in saying hello or asking how I’m doing. I get excited to buy food at the grocery store just to see how much I can engage someone. I think the difference for me is knowing that I’ll be leaving soon vs. sitting with someone for a set amount of time. A silly thing that I need to work past. Thank you for inspiring me.
Lauren - Brooke, I just want to thank you for always being such a positive and encouraging person! I’m also a fairly shy person, which has presented it’s obstacles in my life and photography. Every time I fly I try to avoid talking to those around me, but I always feel regretful by the end of the flight, thinking I could have had a good conversation and learned something from a fellow human. There was once, however, where I had a wonderful conversation with an older woman on a flight to Seattle. She was the kindest woman and spoke sweet words about her family and late husband. I honestly can’t remember everything we talked about, but I do remember feeling a sense of fullness at the end of the flight, because I was able to connect with this stranger in a way I wasn’t used to. I often ponder on the strangeness of our aversion to others, when, as you said, we all have a story to tell and life is so much more fulfilling if we share ours and listen to others.
Anyways, keep up your inspirational messages, you’ve really helped me develop as a photographer, both technically and by having confidence in my art!
brookeshaden - Lauren, thank you for sharing that. I so connected with what you said because it is exactly how I feel. I have such a longing to break free from myself yet rarely do it. If only we could push ourselves more easily…but then, I suppose, where would the struggle in life be? I love pushing past fears…I hope I can be better this year. Thank you for sharing! And for your kind words <3
rudy - I dont know why
but i keep on reading your stuff and keep on getting inspired, is it because ppl dont write any more or only write shit and acronyms o is it because it relates to me using the photography medium.
i love your writing and your simplicity.
so thank you for inspiring us including me and pleaseeeeeeeeeeee continue writing
brookeshaden - Aww hehe thank you Rudy! I appreciate the comment very much – I love writing more than most things in life and couldn’t imagine stopping. Even if no one read a word I wrote, I’d still be here writing 🙂
Libertad Leal - This is so wonderful Brooke, thank you for sharing. I actually like to smile, compliment and chat with random strangers. I don’t know…it feels nice to be nice for no particular reason you know? Ever since smart phones came into our lives it seems there is less of that and that makes me sad. I mean how manny connections are we missing? How many husbands and wives, best friends and business partners met randomly at the bookstore, in line at the movies or sitting next to each other in a plane? What are the odds of that happening now is we all have our eyes fixed on a screen of some sort? I worry about this, I truly do. Solitude is great and needed (I am an only child, I know this) but connection is what keeps us alive and it matters. Thank you writing about this, I truly enjoy your words as much as your images.
brookeshaden - Thank you so much for saying all of this, it is just what I was thinking. It does feel great to say what you’re thinking out loud to a stranger…something about that unexpected connection that I love. It becomes easy to talk online because we have already identified our mutual interests…but in person, it is a whole different thing that can be more intimidating, but also very rewarding. I am going to put myself out there more and see just how many people I can connect with. That is so awesome of you to already be doing it. I applaud that!
Jeremy Gouge - Brooke,
I love following your words. I just recently quit my job of 9 years to pursue my dream of being a full time photographer ( thanks to my amazingly supportive wife ) and have found myself missing interaction on the most primitive level. Ive always been open and unbashful but now I find myself alone more often than not and its a nice change on one hand but I miss the interaction even more I think. This is what I thought of as I was reading this. How so often we can have conversations or meaningful glances even if we would simply unplug long enough to let ourselves really see. Thank you for the inspiration to be different and to be bare.
brookeshaden - Thank you so much Jeremy for writing this – I identify with that. When I had an office job I actually really liked interacting with coworkers each day. I value my alone time very much, but it is great to be able to put yourself out there regularly, as if it is routine. Now my job is to put myself out there at random and see what good comes of it. Thank you so much for sharing!
Amani - I have to tell you I’m jealous of all the adventures you have. To me, talking to a stranger on a plane is an adventure, even if it seems like such a small thing to people. The only time I was on a plane without my family, I sat next to a man who was reading The Hobbit, and I was reading a book called Insurgent by Veronica Roth. I wish I could say we had a wonderful conversation about books – we didn’t. I was too shy to say anything and kept reading for the next four hours. And I still regret it to this day.
I never put myself in situations where I’d have to interact with people I don’t know, because I too am incredibly shy, and a little awkward. If I’m not completely quiet, I ramble (you witnessed that! haha). But this post made me see all the opportunities and experiences I’m missing out on because of my social anxiety and shyness, and I’m definitely going to try to work on that! So thank you 😀
brookeshaden - Amani, I think that you have no idea how amazing you truly are. I found you to be so lovable when I met you, and I know that any stranger would have their day brightened by talking to you – so do put yourself out there. I know how hard it is. I am the same. I get so scared to talk…but we must, because of all we could be missing. Let’s keep encouraging each other with this. <3 <3
Devon - When I was about 16, an older man stopped to talk to a group of friends and me outside a store. He was so bizarre and candid and genuine- I can still vividly recall the interaction even over 10 years later. When he finally left, he said “If you see me again, just say ‘Hey.’ And I’ll say “Hey’ back. And if I don’t remember you, that’s okay, because we will have still said hello.”
brookeshaden - Perfection in one story – exactly what I needed to hear to find that motivation to push past my comfort zone. Thank you endlessly for sharing this Devon.
Rocio Martinez - As always, your words are truly uplifting and inspiring. Your descriptions are incredibly beautiful and make me feel connected to you. I also love reading everybody’s comments. Its funny you talk about personal connections because I have always been a really shy person. I started being less shy after entering college and becoming part of the campus activities board. I believe that personal, live connections are imperative. I also believe that connecting online is just as important. Most of us do hide behind the screen but oh what things can be done and how many people can you meet. During college I met the man who is now my husband. But… I met him through Skype. At the time he was getting his master degree in human rights in Spain. We became instant friends and knew that we were soul mates. We “dated” for 4 years online. We only saw each other in person 4 times. One month per year. We knew we were the “one”. He finally left his family and career behind to marry me. The 5th year he moved here and we have now been married for a year and a half. We know we are meant to be. Without the internet…we never would have met…! He is an incredible person to meet in person tho. He has quite a personality and is different from 99% of the population. He smiles to every single person he meets and after saying hello…he ALWAYS asks…”are you happy?”…when ordering out or when asked if he needs anything else, he says…”yes, can I have a smile please?” every single person is taken aback. They are completely surprised and dont know what to say. However, they do end up giving him a smile even if they are angry or grumpy. His love for human connection is so deep that he always ends up getting through to people and making them smile even at the worst moments. He has even written a series of letters called ” letters of love to humanity”. Yesterday, I found out my grandfather had died two days before. I was desperate but even then, he found a way to make me laugh. So, like I always say…everything happens for a reason. I think we live in an era where everything we have is necessary.
brookeshaden - Awwwwwww Rocio!! That is so amazing! I love love stories 🙂 Your husband sounds like the rarest of gems and I am so glad that you two found each other. Xoxox
Jaye Crist - On a delayed flight out of Denver to JFK, I met a fellow as we shared our dilemma of changing travel plans and options. We comiserated a bit and went our desperate ways. By chance I saw him again that day at O’Hare in Chicago. We had each found different routes that connected in Chicago, he was now flying into LaGuardia and I into Newark. We chatted about our jobs and families briefly over coffee and again went our separate ways. Three days latter in Manhattan, at a corner on Vessey Street we ran into, almost literally, one another. Thus time we found a place to have lunch together to “catch up” on this coinsidence. This was before cell phones, email, internet chats and we again parted ways this time was the last connection, other than my recollection of it quite often
Since then I now have found FB, LinkedIn, and other digital avenues of value to connect me to you and others who I have yet to meet in person but I do believe that it likely one day we will. Note: Mary Angelini commented here and she is a connection of mine via our internet world and common interest in photography; haven’t met in person, yet 🙂
brookeshaden - Jaye!!! That is so amazing. Wow. I love stories like that. The odds…that is just amazing. Thank you for sharing!
Andrea Gore - First off, thank you Brooke for such a beautiful story that left me in tears when I read he was meeting his Dad for the first time. Not that it was sad. It is just so beautiful. How awesome is it that he shared that with you! My most recent beautiful moment with a stranger happened about a week ago. It began when I was in my senior year of high school and sitting down with my class to order graduation announcements, cap and gown. My family at that time was very poor and couldn’t afford to buy me one. My friends mother seeing me in tears at the graduation ordering meeting offered to buy it for me. Otherwise I would not have had one. Keep in mind I graduated in 2006. Every time I would let it catch my eye from the corner of my closet I would feel so grateful that someone graciously helped me with something that now is so small but at that time meant the world. Even though it was in some ways a symbol of that milestone in my life I wanted it to be a blessing to someone else. Being someone that is terrified of meeting strangers online and not knowing anyone that needed it I didn’t really know what to do with it. I took a chance. I posted on a local yard sale page on Facebook and put “Free to a good home”. I had a taker almost immediately. That day I went and met the lady at a local bank. She got out of her car and before taking the gown told me why she was getting it. She said it was going to a 18 year old boy who had been kicked out of his home onto the streets and had no way of purchasing a gown. She said she had taken him in out of the goodness of her heart but the extra $50 was just not there for her family. My eyes welled up with tears because I knew how that boy felt. I just told her thank you for letting me be the one to give this to them. If I wouldn’t have conquered the fear of meeting a stranger I would have never been able to get that gown to the perfect taker. Although I feel this is such a small thing in the scheme of life, it helped me have faith that giving to strangers is amazing. I also realized all the thoughts and fears of what could go wrong were actually improbable. I now find myself digging around the house to find free things to give away. Seems silly but it is true. Thank you for your constant words of overcoming fear, and sharing your experiences.
brookeshaden - Andrea, you remind me that there is no such thing as something small or an experience that is not huge. What you did, and what you had done for you, is truly breathtaking and I feel renewed because of hearing it. Thank you for sharing that story…you are a great person and I hope to meet you one day..in person 😉
Andrea Gore - I would really love that Brooke!
Monica - Hi Brooke, Very interesting, true and thought provoking blog. I consider myself shy, especially when I am in large groups of people. I am much more willing to have a conversation in a small group setting or with people that I feel a level of comfort when they are in my company. Yet, I have taught elementary education to a classroom of young students every day for many years. I have interacted with colleagues, and parents on a professional level without a problem. But, I find that I am a private person so opening up and letting people see who is behind my mask is not something I do with ease or have a desire to do. You most certainly have the ability to reach your emotions and express them through your art. I bet you too can reach out to people if it truly matters to you and you see that it can be beneficial for you to begin a relationship with that person. So many relationships remain on the surface, and one may start to ask themselves, why bother to interact at all? I too am one of those people who tries to be very polite with those I interact with in public. Like Jody wrote above, I am often given a look of surprise or disbelief, because people around me are so accustomed to rudeness as if it is just the way it is. I guess the old adage of don’t talk to strangers is drilled into people in my area from when they are young. So, making connections is difficult. But, I believe it is worth your effort to find places to make connections and allow someone to find out who the woman is behind the lens. Making some time for human connection is good for your soul and outlook on life. I have been photographing families and headshots for a while. Meeting and interacting with this group of people is very similar to teaching. I find that it is still my role to earn their trust and make them feel comfortable before I can get a successful photo. Teaching is the same…there is rarely success without your student/client having good self esteem and being willing to take a chance with me. Breaking out of shyness is exactly the same. Reading your entry today actually made me feel good about myself. I connect with what you saying and am here to tell you I think you a doing just fine being you.
brookeshaden - Monica, you are a lovely person. Thank you for being here and writing these words, it’s just what I needed to hear. Amazing – you reaching out to me has changed my life for the better, and I can already tell that many people feel that way about you. xo
Vanessa - This really speaks to me, as it’s something I’ve always struggled with. The most common feedback I receive, from 3rd grade to this day is: Vanessa needs to communicate more/come out of her shell. I’ve learned to love and partially rely on digital communication, and while it’s done great things for me (including introducing me to my husband) there is such a difference when you reach out and just chat with a stranger! Corporate work has really helped me grow and broaden my communication skills, and I’m definitely inspired to use that for more personal interactions. There’s so little to lose, and from all these stories above, obviously so much to gain- I look forward to it!
brookeshaden - Oh Vanessa I love that – meeting your husband, working on being more social. I also heard the same things on my report cards…always. Sigh! But yes, reaching out and really talking to people is invaluable!
Corinne - I’ve been fortunate to have a few…photography has mostly been the reason for it because I’ve had to learn how to connect with my subjects who are often strangers, be it verbally or emotionally. I have done a lot of work photographing racehorses, which that in itself has led me to meet some incredible people who live in a very nomadic business. I remember one day a young girl reached out to me via Facebook, she worked on the backstretch of the track I was shooting at. I’m not normally the “be friends with girls” type, as I’ve had so many issues with them in the past, but for some reason I felt a connection with her. We decided to meet in person, it was stupid to not see each other face to face when we practically lived just towns apart. I’m not one to normally put myself out there like that. I’m a very talkative and friendly to everyone, even strangers, but to become friendly with someone I never met, to try and form a connection with them, become vulnerable…well, that’s something I’m not very comfortable with. But the thing horseracing has taught me about most is second chances and taking chances in the first place, so I pushed myself to meet her and not make some lame excuse the day of our plans and back out. I have to say it was the best chance I ever took on a stranger, and it has changed my life exponentially. Casey and I have become the best of friends in the four years since we first randomly met. She’s 19 and I’m 30 and that age difference has never once gotten in the way of our amazing friendship. She’s an artist and I’m a photographer, and our mutual love for horses, coffee, chocolate, and fun has made us quite a team. I’ve learned from this experience to open up more and really put myself out there…the face to face connections I’ve made in life have directly effected and changed my photography for the better! Thank YOU for sharing your story with us. I know I’ve said it too many times haha but you truly are such a huge inspiration to me! I hope one day we get to meet face to face as well!
brookeshaden - Wow Corinne! That is such an amazing story. To meet a friend like that on the internet – I love that you kept in touch and are still going strong. That is amazing 🙂 I love it! And thank you so much for your kind words, I appreciate it so much 🙂
Margherita Introna - As always Brooke, your words – as with your images – have touched my heart and I feel an overflow of emotion in my soul <3 Thank you.
My biggest fear is to tell people how I feel about them – and the more I feel for them the greater my fear. It is a fear of rejection perhaps… a deep shyness that makes me scared to reach out. So often I express my feelings for somebody through my images rather – and although I would never change this – I battle with my fear to speak my heart to those that matter most. Your words today have given me hope in some strange way. As always, thank you.
brookeshaden - Margherita, Thank you for sharing this. I identify with you so much. I know how that feels. It is something I crave to get past but it is a slow process, made faster all the time by trying new things and realizing that hardly anything bad can happen as a result of saying hello. So much love to you!
Monica - Hi Brooke,
I am so glad you received my message. I apologize for the errors in the message; I was rushing and did not proofread. Of course, I will never admit that to my students – LOL. I neglected to mention that I keep a Facebook page called Monica Cole Photography and a Zenfolio account at mocophoto.zenfolio.com if your are curious to see some of my work. I am all self taught and have finally reached a point where I am aiming to be more creative with my photos. I just traded up to the Canon 6D and shoot all natural light at this time. Wishing you all good things and please know I will be out here following and appreciating your work as you unveil each work of art to the world!
Monica Quintana - Great story, Brooke. Reminded me a similar experience. Many years ago, my boyfriend and I went on a trip to Andalucia (south of Spain). We went by train (12 or 14 hours trip). As we wanted to spend the less money we could, we choose a cheap ticket, that meant we had to share space with other people. I didn’t felt confortable with that, it was mostly a night trip and sharing my night with strangers was not my idea of a great travel. But the most amazing thing happened: a man sitting on the same wagon, an old man, started talking to us: where were we going, how many days we were going to stay there… things like that. And began to tell us about his life. He was an immigrate. He left his home, Andalucia, to try to find a job and a better life. He spent his entire life on the north of Spain, working on a mine. Working many hours every day, in terrible conditions, with many risks. He saw some of his friends die inside the mine. He suffered a disease in his lungs due to the continued exposure to coal. He had his pharynx extirped due to cancer and spoke thanks to a prosthetic one. His story was amazing, specially because he was talking bravely, corageously, with a smile most of the time. A really amazing man. I will never forget him.
Birgit - What a beautiful story in a world where you sometimes feel like an alien just because you look at people and greet your neighbors.
This is exactly me! 🙂
Good to know that there are others who love to shoot portraits and have to overcome their own shyness.
sophia - I was on a short one-hour flight in the middle seat. As the sold-out flight started filling up I glanced at each person coming down the aisle, wondering who would be seated next to me. Finally, a man as big as a mountain squeezed his way through the aisle. He was to be my seat mate. My heart sunk. He tall, and wide, and big. The kind of big that spilled into my seat. The kind of big that prevented the seat divider from being brought down. He oozed into my space. He was sweating a little and finally dared to glance down out me with sideward scared-puppy eyes. In that instance, I knew this man had probably never encountered anything but hostility on a flight of any duration. It was only an hour. I smiled and decided I would be as gracious and kind as I knew how. We started talking, and he was one of the most fascinating people I had ever talked to. We covered astronomy, physics, poetry, literature…photography, travel, dreams and aspirations. He was quirky and funny, tentative and passionate. Yes, all of those things. We covered more ground that I have with people I’ve known my whole life. That hour went by in moments and I was truly sorry to have to land so soon. That brief connection taught me to never close my heart to anyone. We all need one another.
sophia - I was on a short one-hour flight in the middle seat. As the sold-out flight started filling up I glanced at each person coming down the aisle, wondering who would be seated next to me. Finally, a man as big as a mountain squeezed his way through the aisle. He was to be my seat mate. My heart sunk. He was tall, and wide, and big. The kind of big that spilled into my seat. The kind of big that prevented the seat divider from being brought down. He oozed into my space. He was sweating a little and finally dared to glance down at me with sideward scared-puppy eyes. In that instance, I knew this man had probably never encountered anything but hostility on a flight of any duration. It was only to be an hour. I smiled and decided I would be as gracious and kind as I knew how. We started talking, and he was one of the most fascinating people I had ever talked to. We covered astronomy, physics, poetry, literature…photography, travel, dreams and aspirations. He was quirky and funny, tentative and passionate. Yes, all of those things. We covered more ground than I have with people I’ve known my whole life. That hour went by in moments and I was truly sorry to have to land so soon. That brief connection taught me to never close my heart to anyone. We all need one another.
Heather - Such wonderful and inspiring stories!! 🙂
The first one that came to my mind happened many, many years ago. (I’m getting ready to show my age a bit!) I was a manager at a now defunct video store and working a fairly quiet shift when I noticed some raised voices at the front counter. After listening for a minute it became clear what was going on. An older woman (her name was Ovean) had ordered a CD and thought we were the store she had called to place the order. She was unable to drive and had called a cab to bring her out – about 10 miles or so – and was frustrated and couldn’t understand why we weren’t helping her. I’m not always the best at handling conflict if it deals with me, but I guess I’m okay at talking other people down sometimes. I pulled Ovean to the side and was finally able to help her understand why we wouldn’t have her CD’s, and then I placed a call to a couple of nearby shops until I was able to locate the place that did. I sent her on her way calm and contented and thought I’d never see her again… About two weeks later I was working an afternoon shift and received a phone call from the grocery store at the other end of the parking lot. It was Ovean wondering “what you kids are eating for snacks these days”. I tried to assure her we didn’t need anything but would love to see her if she had time to stop by. Ten minutes later she showed up with a huge bag full of fresh fruit and a box of Valentine’s candy for me and the other employee working that day. She told me she didn’t have any family, didn’t often get to talk to people and felt like she could talk to me. I never knew when she might show up & she had no phone, so would just come visit every now and then. She was a sassy, thoughtful, kind woman, and my only regret is that I never knew how to contact her, so I was never able to find out what became of her when she stopped coming for our visits. On that first brief Sunday afternoon, however, she taught me about random kindness and paying it forward before those things became common vernacular. She touched my heart… and will always be with me.
Lisa Lizarraga - Soon i board the plane. I will sit there side by side by a total stranger and yet not an ounce of stranger will last, for i have chosen to become friends. I made a decision a year ago to stop waiting for the rest of my life. To stop waiting for the life of my dreams. It was one of the best decisions of my life. As a child all i wanted to be when i grew up was an “Artist” a real one. I was an artist as a child, my mom would tell everyone, “this is my artist, Lisa” and yet when i grew up…what changed? When did i loose that thought that i was a ‘real artist’? When did i become afraid to chat with the person sitting next to me? I am in my mid 40’s and i no longer wait for anything. I am a real artist now and i choose to chat with the stranger who will become my friend. I have finally given myself permission to not take things personally. I have finally given myself permission to live the life of my dreams and since i have always been a dreamer…it’s amazing to ride the clouds without guilt, i wish it for everyone. I am so excited to visit this new world tomorrow and to meet new people who will come alive in the lens of my camera. I have no idea what this next week will hold for me and my little black box with a shutter sound. One thing i know for sure, it will be amazing…how could it not when you live in a world where anything is possible and you have left the mind killer at home. (no Facebook for a week…hopefully i will survive eek)
jonathan - I have no story for you this morning, just a quick note to say that your words have echoed my thoughts on more than one occasion and that’s OK with me.
Ron - Thank you Brooke for all you share with us. You are an amazing, inspirational person! I have often observed that extroverted people seem to get more attention while introverted people are more easily overlooked (and encouraged to become more extroverted!). We live in a strange world where extroversion is valued more! One of my sons is an introvert and I observed this in his life often. I interact with people as part of my work (I am a pastor in a church) and I have found myself drawn to introverts and try to make it one of my values to connect with them. I feel blessed in so many ways by intentionally trying to value introverts! There is a richness in both who they are and in the depth of their thought! I am borderline between extrovert/introvert and slip back and forth between the two. Thank you for the reminder of the importance of connecting with others. People can be such a gift and often we are the ones blessed when the connection unexpectedly happens!
Best & Worst Qualities | Promoting Passion - […] other day I blogged about the power of connecting with people, and I realized after writing it that I could do even more to facilitate those connections. Yes, […]
Paulo Carvalho - I don’t have any stories of contact with strange people on the plane, because when I travel I always go with someone known. But I have a story.
My best friend I knew through a radio program. And during 5 years we never met in person, we only exchanged letters by the post. And even without seeing each other, we were best friends. When we first saw, at the end of five years, it was one of my best days and it was like we had already seen so many times. It was wonderful. Today, after 20 years, she continues to be my best friend.
Shaun Poston - Truly touching post Brooke, as I often struggle with this same issue. But like you, when I do manage to conjure up the courage to do so, I have often found that people are just as willing to make small talk as you are once they realize there is no need to keep their guard up with you. I have actually been wanting to reach out to you to thank you and this post post was a blessing in that aspect. I have only been in the photography field for right at a year and I like many others were just stuck in the over-edited HDR phase! Lol! That was until I saw your work and interview on SLR Lounge and it was the most influential moment I have had in my short career thus far. What’s even more fascinating was the image that caught my attention was the exact image you used on your facebook page for this post, “waiting to fly.” It was definitely a sign telling me to reach out. to make a long story short, your work and your true passion has been extremely contagious and so moving it has inspired me to lengths you couldn’t even imagine and taken my work to a completely different level. Although I have just begun my journey and am only scratching the surface thus far, because Of your inspiration, I have had the courage to put myself out there and was just invited to showcase my work at the RAW Artist event here in New Orleans and have set goals to have my work in galleries by the end of the year. I honestly had no clue I was capable of becoming so passionate about something as I am for this amazing field! Your Creative Live workshops were amazing and I can’t tell you how many times I have watched them and learn new things every time I do. Can’t wait until February! So I just really needed to write and say Thank You for all that you do. It’s amazing how you are able to have such an effect on complete “strangers” by just being who you are. So for that I am grateful! Keep doing what you are doing because you are an amazing soul!!!
brookeshaden - Shaun, this touched me so much. Thank you for sharing your story…I am lifted up by your words. I know you will go so far – your passion is infectious and I feel so grateful and honored that something I might have done has made an impact…thank you endlessly!
Shaun Poston - The pleasure is all mine! Thank you! Amazing book by the way! Looking forward to many more to come! 🙂
JAKE - Hi, I discovered great tips ! Continue the good work!
Ashley - I’m a very shy person and have been for many years. This story is kind of funny in how it all worked out. But when I was in my senior year of high school and I took pictures of my friends band and didn’t really connect or even attempt to socialize with the other members of the band besides the one I knew. I did my job and got out, its what I did best. Two years later I am reunited with the bassist of that band and am now dating him. Its amazing how if I had just thought to strike up a conversation maybe I would have realized what great people I was taking my time to photograph. We all work together, live together, breath together and yet none of us really seem to take the time to know each other. That is a shame. But since I’ve learned from this experience I’ve chosen to start getting to know people even if its someone that I’m pretty sure I will never run into again. It’s amazing the impact we can have on other peoples lives if not only for just a brief minute of your time. I’m extremely grateful that you take the time to touch all of our lives with your wisdom, you could easily just take your photos and put them on the internet and tell your stories and we would all gladly listen but you actually care to know us and that makes you amazing. You truly are an wonderful inspiration.