Have you ever been asked, by a friend, in an interview, or in passing, about your moment? Your transformative experience that ultimately led you down a path? The instant in which you knew exactly what you were going to do with your life?
As undecided as I am about my place in the world, I somehow have an answer to this question, and my answer has led me to feel immense gratitude as I reflect on this past year.
’Tis the season of being thankful, and this Thanksgiving I am grateful for opportunity, for food, for good company, and for time - all of which amounted to my moment.
After graduating college, which I still quite frankly can’t wrap my head around, I travelled around Europe with my best friends. This Kansas girl went to thirteen countries in six weeks, exploring with my closest friends, my parents, and myself. After visiting the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam on July 8th, I finally purchased a journal from a street vendor near the canals.
I was on this trip not only for adventure, but also for formative life experiences as I began a personal quest to figure out what on earth I would be doing with my life now that I had graduated. And as it turned out, I eventually did. This journal helped me make sense of it all and allowed me to reflect on each passing day.
Next stop: Stockholm, Sweden.
July 13, 2017, is a day I will remember forever. The day that all of my close friends know had changed my life.
Food adventures are my favorite adventures, and I decided to venture off on my own for dinner that Thursday evening. I had made this reservation months before and opted in for a “shared table” experience, as opposed to sitting by my lonesome. I truly had no idea what to expect. With journal in hand, I entered the restaurant and got whisked off to meet six people: Bill, Margaret, Anisa, Amechi, Daniel, and Frederika.
We sat down at our table and before we knew it, we were sharing our life stories, passions, and fears over innovative Swedish cuisine. We were all so different, yet it felt so natural. Two from Ohio, two from London, and two from Sweden, and it felt like I had known them for years.
Think about any dinner experience you have been a part of and recall how long the experience lasted. 1 hour? 2 hours maybe? Perhaps a bit longer? Well, this evening transcended any notion of time as we arrived at 6:00PM and parted ways at 12:00AM.
Six hours was anything but conventional; we had the chance to leave as the meal finished, but each of us wanted more. We enjoyed each other’s company and accepted one another without judgment. What astounded me most was that we had so much in common, even though we were at entirely different stages of life. We came from different cultures and parts of the world, yet we shared a zeal for adventure, an appreciation for family, a love for good food, and a passion for conversing with strangers.
We exchanged emails and embraced upon exiting, as if saying goodbye to good friends. As I closed the door of my taxi cab, I couldn’t help but wish that every single person on earth could have a similar experience. I believe so strongly that if we could have more moments like this one, we could all harness the capacity for tolerance, understanding, and empathy. If we could find it in our hearts to constantly seek out this “shared table” model in multiple aspects of our lives, then we could accomplish feats far greater than ourselves. Without even knowing it, we could begin to break down religious, cultural, and social barriers simply by breaking bread. By transforming this mundane act into something more meaningful, one begins to effortlessly uncover commonalities with people who are far more similar to oneself than ever imagined. Nowadays, in our sharing economy, we share Ubers, Airbnbs, and even personal parking spots with strangers - why can’t we share meals with one another? It is that easy.
Later that evening as I lay in bed, I couldn’t stop myself from smiling because for the first time, I was able to see, even a glimpse, of what I was meant to do. I am passionate, through and through, about human connection and the potential for human connection to transform the world. I scribbled in my journal, that eye opening evening, that I had “finally understood my intrinsic passion for food and for dialogue with new people” - in all caps. To this day, I often think back to that evening. I re-read the words inked in the margins to place myself in that moment in which all time stopped; the moment which I hope to recreate for the rest of my life in whatever way I can.
Food connects us. Time connects us. Humanity connects us. In thinking about your own personal Thanksgiving, I encourage you to try a “strangegiving” of sorts in the coming weeks. Open yourself up to creating spaces imbued with new perspectives and new individuals who could contribute so much to your world. Host a meal! Invite the person in line next to you at the grocery store or the person you keep promising lunch to and haven’t gotten the chance, or reach out to the weaker, more inactive ties in your situated network. You can learn so much simply by surrounding yourself with fresh faces.
So this year, when my family goes around the table and poses the simple, yet thought provoking question: “What are you thankful for this year?” I know exactly how I will answer. I am grateful for new experiences that have empowered me, like my moment with strangers around a dinner table in Stockholm. When you are asked that question tomorrow, I hope that you take your answer and channel it into your year beyond the ephemeral timeframe of Thanksgiving; your moment awaits.