It was two years ago, around this time, that I was nearing the final stretch of my freshman year at Moody Spokane. I changed more that year than any other and had no idea what it would be like to transfer to Chicago. But it was in those final weeks that I was just focusing on being done, on going home and enjoying a much needed summer break. Amid my own frustrations, homesickness and boredom with life, I had a random encounter with a stranger that not only made me smile, but stayed with me forever.
It was a warm day, but the clouds were rolling in, and I knew the rain was coming. I didn’t want to get stuck indoors in my room all afternoon, so I decided to just take off solo to study. I loaded up my backpack and headed to Chairs Coffee House, my favorite local coffee shop, a fifteen-minute walk away. The owners, Mitch and Chris, were always warm and inviting. Their dog, a hopelessly adorable lab and retriever mix named Ace, would hang out in their office in the back or in the parking lot. I was always allowed to go say hi, which made me happy as I was always homesick for my own two dogs.
I walked down Indiana Avenue with quick, determined steps. It was starting to sprinkle, and I did not want to get caught in the rain. It was at a crosswalk, as I was waiting for the little green walking man to appear, that a man suddenly appeared at my side and started to make small talk. Now, normally I avoided speaking to random strangers where I lived in Spokane: my girlfriends and I had had too many sketchy encounters. Yet there was something about this man that didn’t seem threatening in the least. He seemed friendly and a bit quirky. No one could have missed him on this dreary gray day. He wore a neon orange sweatshirt and beanie. He was also carrying a cardboard box full of what looked like donations.
While I can’t remember exactly what we chatted about it those few moments, I do remember what he said as we started to cross the street together: he asked me if I was in middle school. I was shocked but tried to hide it. People often think I’m a year or two younger than I actually am, but I had never gotten confused for a preteen. I told him very kindly that I was a freshman in college.
“Oh that’s great! You’re a short person with tall dreams then, huh?”
“Yeah…” I think I awkwardly chuckled. What does that even mean?
We had finished crossing the street and he was about to head in a different direction. He decided to give the short girl some advice:
“Let me tell you something that’s really going to help you, ok? Always hand-pick your friends. Trust me, it saves you a lot of trouble.”
“Ok … thanks!”
And with that he was gone.
This encounter puzzled me for the rest of the day. Hand-pick my friends? Isn’t that what everyone does? People don’t pick your friends for you. My brightly colored friend was probably just a little off his rocker.
I did have to admit, however, that the “short person with tall dreams” reference made me laugh, and to this day, I sometimes like to refer to myself that way. And while this conversation did not change my life or open up the heavens with revelation, I truly believe God used it to remind me of those simple moments that are often overlooked. I can aspire for greater things, even when I don’t know where they’ll lead me. I can dream of being an author, just like when I was kindergarten. True friends (the ones you hand-pick, apparently) will stay by your side, even when you’re halfway across the country in a big city like Chicago. It’s these little truths that stay with you the longest, and the ones which ultimately make up the most beautiful moments in life.
This piece is considered a “standard” column in our print edition.
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