It was 1999 and “Y2K” was on everyone’s mind. Would our intricate infrastructure fail us? Would the world come to an end? Or would January 1, 2000 arrive with an errant blip here and there and quickly be forgotten?
As a private citizen and a working professional, I wondered, too. But the morning I boarded a Denver flight bound for JFK airport in New York, all I wanted was to catch my breath. I had been on the road for a week and was ready to head home. As I plunked down into my much-desired window seat, peering out at the all-too-familiar tarmac and wondering what was happening back in Connecticut, I noticed the person seated beside me. Married to an artist, I was fascinated with whatever he was sketching mere inches from me.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but that’s beautiful.”
Thus began an intriguing conversation with a young artist that lasted the duration of the flight. By the time we were “wheels-down,” I knew his name and had commissioned a piece from him. But there was a twist:
“So I have this paragraph, a sort of vision statement. This may sound crazy, but if I give it to you, would you sketch it for me, you know, interpret the words into an image?”
“I’ve never been asked that before.”
“I imagine you haven’t.”
We then exchanged contact information and, in a mutual leap of faith, agreed that he would send me the sketch, and I would then send him a check.
“I have no idea. You decide.”
I generally give people the benefit of the doubt, but even I recognized that this arrangement was a little out there. The worst that could happen on my end? I’d never hear from him again and my vision would forever be rendered in words alone. A crumpled piece of paper on his end.
But people can be and are amazing. Not all of the time, and certainly not everyone. This guy, “Chris,” was amongst the amazing. Three weeks later, a thin, carefully wrapped package arrived. He did come through, just as he said he would. But how? As I opened the sketch, I was thrilled with what I saw. It was a little more “sensual” than I expected, true, but it was stunning. More importantly, it gave life to my vision of taking an inspired route, one deeply personal and less travelled.
Thinking about that chance encounter these many years later, I see that the entire interaction was a journey down a road never travelled and as such, as true to my vision as it could possibly be. Needless to say, I sent a generous check.
I have had other “chance encounters” in my lifetime, but now think the term may be a misnomer. It is instead a moment where, with courage, curiosity, and humility, we allow for a human connection to emerge.