Have you ever found yourself in a public setting — in the park, on a train, at a restaurant — when you had an immensely enlightening conversation with a stranger? One that gave you a totally new perspective? Helped you come to a solution to a problem? Or, made you utterly confused about life?
I had one of those conversations at the end of September while on a flight from St. Louis to Atlanta. I settled into my window seat, as usual (I always request window seats), and waited anxiously for our departure. I traveled every weekend that month, and honestly, I was just ready to get back to Atlanta and stay put for the first time in weeks. A girl and her mom plopped down beside me, and as soon as they fastened their seat belts, they hurriedly began swiping through a photo album on their iPad before the flight attendants notified us that all electronic devices should be turned off.
We pushed back from the gate, and our wheels lifted off the ground after a few minutes. So I took my normal post, staring out the window at the night sky. Besides the girl asking if it’d be alright if she reached over me to take a picture of the moon with her iPad, I had minimal interaction with her and her mom.
Until we began our descent. And that’s when the girl asked, “What are you reading? If you wouldn’t mind telling me.”
I explained that I was reading “11/22/63” by Stephen King, a book about a man who travels back in time to keep the Kennedy assassination from happening. (Side note: I am terrible at guessing ages, so I was overanalyzing every word or phrase I used in the conversation, trying to make sure I wasn’t talking above her head.) She said she thought that plot would be interesting, and we continued on by discussing the genres we enjoy. (Another side note: I am huge on fiction. I’ve tried to read more nonfiction, but my attention never seems to hold. Ever.)
Next question. “How old are you?”
I knew this was coming. It always does. And, as always, everyone thinks I’m younger than I actually am. That’s quite alright — I know I’ll come to appreciate it 10 or 15 years from now. When I told her that I’m 23-years-old, she was taken aback, as expected. When it was my turn to ask how old she was, I was surprised as well. She was incredibly well-spoken and mature to be just 14-years-old.
Segue into the next part of our discussion. “What do you do for a living?”
For all of the public relations people out there, you know how difficult it can be to explain what we do to other people. Imagine explaining it to a teenager. I wrapped up my description quickly, and asked her what she wanted to do for a living. That exact moment of the conversation was what changed everything.
“I am a writer.”
There was no question about it. No hesitation. And there was no future tense to her statement — it was simply, “I am a writer.”
I remember when I wanted to be a writer. An author. It seems like ages ago.
When I shared that with her, spoken aloud, it was as though I had stepped outside of my body and started to observe the conversation as a fourth person in our row. As that fourth person, I fed off her energy and began to reflect on what it was like to feel young and empowered to do anything you set your mind on, free to pursue your passion with no one to tell you “no.” When the real world hits us, it’s remarkably easy to lose that feeling, the notion that we can actually touch the stars if we reach for them long enough.
And I had. I’d let go of that notion. But for what? There wasn’t a legitimate reason that I could recall.
So just like that, a conversation with a stranger (and I sadly never got her name) gave me a new perspective. I shouldn’t have disregarded my desire to be an author, for example, if that’s what I really wanted. There’s still time to make it, or anything else for that matter, happen.
Now, let me be clear — it’s not that I’d given up on that desire. I’d simply let it, and other things, fall by the wayside. And I have a 14-year-old girl to thank for helping me arrive at the realization that I need to pick them all back up.