As she entered the auditorium, she scanned the sea of faces and folding chairs. Any parent who has attended a school music performance knows that finding a good seat can be as much about those in proximity during the performance as it is about a the view of your child on stage. Some days one might opt to sit among strangers and enjoy the polite silence as everyone waits for the curtain to rise. On other days, one might feel the pull to socialize and look for a familiar face. Or one may feel undecided, pick an empty row, and let fate decide. On this particular night, she chose fate.
After a bit, a familiar voice said hello. She invited her acquaintance to have a seat. They had met before, and she always enjoyed their chats, as he was also was an outspoken, East Coast transplant. While she loved living in the suburbs of the Pacific Northwest, she had learned to filter the part of her that tended to overshare and overstate. It wasn’t how people generally connected here, and more than once she had come on a bit too strong. So when she would meet someone who was wired up in the same way, it was nice to let pretense drop for a spell.
Normally when waiting for an elementary program to start, small talk revolves around classroom assignments or PTA fundraisers. Not in this exchange. What started as an inquiry about a younger child turned into a discussion of broader family dynamics. One thing lead to another, and he was diving into a recent trip to see his father. They had a troubled relationship which encompassed multi-generational layers of dysfunction and addiction. This prompted her acquaintance to get sober years before. It was important to him that his relationship with his son would never resemble the one he had with his father. He punctuated the thought stating,
“That cycle of abuse ends with me.”
He didn’t know that he just stopped her in her tracks. He didn’t know how well she understood what he was saying. He didn’t know that he articulated in a few short minutes everything that had been stewing in her head for the past several years. He didn’t know that by talking so openly about his struggles that he was giving approval for her to speak openly about hers. She didn’t share them then, but she knew she could. She knew she would.
The curtain opened and a mob of kids flooded the stage to sing their hearts out. All eyes turned to watch. She smiled and enjoyed the sweet performance, but in the back of her mind, she knew something had changed. Something profound had happened, and there would be no going back. Once the lights came on, the two acquaintances said their goodbyes.
Some time later, she had made the decision to make a major change in her life. It took some time, but once on solid footing, she emailed her acquaintance to thank him and let him know how that candid conversation was a catalyst. He responded with tears and joy.
The next time they met, it was at another crowded event. In passing, they paused for a just a moment to hug before returning to their duties. They didn’t even say a word, but the message was understood.
Their paths crossed once or twice more before their kids went different directions, and their interactions were always brief yet authentic. They didn’t keep in touch, but the ripple effects of that meaningful encounter followed them forward in life. Sometimes one fated conversation is enough.