Many travelers will tell you that meeting new and interesting people is one of the best things about what they do. Whether it's at a local bar, hotel, museum or park bench, human encounters can often make or break our experiences. Sometimes these new friends are friends for one day only. You share a couple of beers, talk about life, and then go your separate ways. Others will stay with you for a lifetime. They might become your new travel buddy or a long-distance friend. Then there are the ones who belong in a class all their own. They're the life-shapers. The ones who are are just what you need just when you need it. Their presence is generally fleeting, but it can leave a lasting impression.
I ran into such a person yesterday. She and I have known each other for years, but we've never regularly kept in touch. Nevertheless, we somehow manage to run into each other every once in a while in the most random places. This time, it was the downtown Minneapolis YWCA. We saw each other, stopped in our tracks in disbelief, gave each other a big hug, and started a 10-minute catch-up conversation. When we got around to discussing my life, I explained to her that I was in a transition period and not sure where I was going next. "I recently came out of one of those periods in my life," she said. "I know it's tough, horrible even. But when it's gone you'll want it back. Enjoy it. Use the time to discover yourself." Turns out she had used her in-between time to discover yoga, and was now a part-time yoga instructor at the Y. The conversation wrapped up, we hugged again, and parted with a "see you in two years!"
When I stepped onto my treadmill after having listened to her advice, it hit me. She had said exactly what I had been needing to hear. I needed someone who empathized with my situation; someone who didn't just say "it's going to be ok." Someone who acknowledged my frustrations, and then said something new about them. In ten short minutes she had managed to pull me out of my sorry-for-myself slump and into a new appreciation for my situation. She gave me permission to enjoy this time, to discover myself and maybe even discover new interests. As quickly as she had come back into my life she left it again, but her brief reappearance was exactly what I needed when I needed it. Yesterday, she was my life-shaper. I look forward to one day, when we inevitably meet again, thanking her in person.