It was just the two of us on the platform that crisp December evening in 2014.
I paced up on down the platform, looking at the train status board, then at the time on my phone. It was exactly 7:19 p.m.
“Am I in the right place for the 7:19 train to San Jose?” I asked her. She was seated on a bench, close to where the first car of the train would be once it finally got there.
“Yeah. It should be here any minute now,” she responded.
I later learned that she took the train every day and knew the schedule like the back of her hand.
Noticing her pink purse and her pink phone, I asked her, “Is pink your favorite color too?” As a matter of fact, it was, just as it was mine.
I sat down next to her as we waited for the train.
This simple, seemingly mundane exchange sparked what has become a nearly two-year-and-counting friendship.
It was on this cold December evening at the Palo Alto CalTrain station that I met who is now one of my best friends, Ruth.
The train arrived a couple of minutes later. Ruth and I got into the first car and sat next to each other.
We spent the next 33 minutes or so talking about everything from our upbringings and our families to our professional situations and our love lives. As we got off in San Jose, we exchanged numbers and agreed that we should stay in touch. She made sure I knew where I was going before she headed home.
Two weeks later, Ruth and I got together for tea. Since then, we’ve gone on adventures in San Francisco, had several sleepovers at my house, made plans for each other’s imaginary, way-out-into-the-future bachelorette parties, and even taken a spontaneous weekend trip across the border.
We’ve laughed together. Cried together. Yelled at each other. Shared our innermost secrets with each other.
Ruth and I are as different as night and day. One might describe her as the Ernie to my Bert or the Tigger to my Rabbit.
Our different personalities and backgrounds notwithstanding, we discovered during that train ride and during all our encounters since how much we have in common beyond our mutual adoration for pink. For example, we’re both interested in sociology and psychology. We’re both passionate about health and wellness. We share a nerdy obsession with languages, grammar, and editing. We’re both loud (though she more so than I) and both love to laugh.
More important than any of our similarities or differences, however, is the sense of trust and loyalty that we share. We know that we can say whatever is on our minds without worrying about what the other will think. We can completely be ourselves in each other’s presence. As I’ve gone through one of the hardest years of my life, Ruth has been by my side every step of the way. We have one of those rare, special connections that we may not have discovered had we not started talking at the train station that night.
We live in a culture where it is more commonplace to pass the time looking at our phones than at the people around us. We are implicitly taught to be skeptical of and steer clear of those who look or act different from us. It has become the norm to keep to ourselves and mind our own business in public places rather than to make an effort to meet new people.
We seem to have forgotten our interconnection as human beings.
While taking time for ourselves is undoubtedly essential, we should also keep in mind that we likely have more in common with the stranger sitting next to us than we might expect.
One commonplace conversation with a stranger at the train station one night led me to one of my best friends. If we don’t take the step of starting a conversation, of acknowledging our shared humanity, we’ll never know where it might have led.
Author: Pavita Singh
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Takumi Yoshida/Flickr