Tuesday Tales: Finding friends in unusual places – Donna Thistlethwaite

As my eyes scanned the inside of the plane, there was barely a spare seat. I awkwardly dodged people and body parts as I navigated my way down the aisle.

I often go with a random seat allocation for flights but I’d found myself clicking on the ‘Select Seat’ button during check-in earlier that day. I had been surprised that there were only two options left and that they were both middle seats. I had gone for what seemed like a very benign choice, seat 10B.

As I approached 10B I raised my eye brows and half nodded to the guy in the aisle seat as I said “That’s my seat”.

My friendly looking neighbour stood up and moved backwards to make room for me. I clambered over his seat juggling my laptop which I planned to work on during the three hour Adelaide flight.

Once seated, the guy next to me returned to his seat and shot a gorgeous smile in my direction. Without thinking, the words “You have such beautiful eyes” tumbled out of my mouth.

Now, my neighbour did what many of us do when we receive a compliment, he said “Thank you … so do you.” We all really should just learn how to accept a compliment!

“Thank you I said but I know that’s not true, I have average eyes and I’m totally cool with that. I have other strengths but my eyes are not one of them. I live in a house where everyone has big beautiful eyes … my partner, my child, even my dog”.

Mr 10C then turned his attention to a magazine. After a few minutes, he turned towards me gesturing to his magazine. “Look what I just read”, he said.

I knew the words on that page. I had read and heard them many times before. They resonated with me. They were “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did but people will never forget how you made them feel” by Maya Angelou.

We smiled at each other and launched into an animated and engaging conversation that only stopped at the Adelaide luggage carousel. Christian and I went deep. It turned out that there were some real parallels in our life journeys and despite a 17 year age difference, we were extremely like-minded. We shared inspiring stories about the people we’d met and the experiences we’d had.

Christian told me that he and his partner had moved back to Australia after 13 years in Canada to be closer to family and particularly their mothers.

“It’s a long flight home if anything happens”, he said. Christian had found his calling in massage therapy and personal training and has been able to transition his business from Canada to the country South Australia.

A couple of hours into our conversation I felt certain that I wanted to stay in contact with Christian. As soon as the words “Are you on LinkedIn?” came out of my mouth I knew the answer. My experiences as a career coach had taught me that massage therapists were much more likely to be hanging out on Facebook. Upon sharing this insight with Christian he said “The best way to stay in contact with me is actually by phone”. He handed me a business card which contained little more than his name and phone number.

As we said our goodbyes Christian asked if I would be up for a hug, to which I replied “Are you kidding? There’s no way I was letting you out of here without a hug”.

I went on to have a fabulous time in Adelaide and a full next week. Finally, I had a chance for some rest, relaxation and reflection during a weekend at the beach a week after the chance plane encounter.

I grabbed out my phone and texted Christian: “It’s Donna here from flight VA 1400 Bne to Adel. I hope you’ve had a fabulous week … Last night I told my partner about meeting you and the stories and connection we shared. Today I sent you a Facebook friend invitation. … I hope that our paths will cross again …”

Christian and I have since had a couple of phone conversations and I truly feel that he will have a place in my life into the future.

I felt compelled to share this story because it is so easy to think that making friends is harder as an adult. My experience with Christian, and recently connecting with a bunch of people in my local community, have confirmed for me that friendship is always available to us if we are willing to be vulnerable and express and if we open our hearts and our mouths to start that conversation.

Could that random stranger nearby be your next friend?

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Donna Thistlethwaite is a Brisbane-based speaker and trainer specialising in mental health and resilience. She is an accredited Mental Health First Aid Instructor and Resilience at Work Facilitator with a passion for suicide prevention and for helping individuals, teams and organisations to THRIVE. You can find out about her next Mental Health First Aid courses here.

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