Make the most of chance encounters

By Laura Briggs

Timing is a crazy thing.

It never ceases to amaze me when I hear stories of coincidental timing ... Like the time my friend from Mooroopna ran into my cousin from Albury, on the chaotic streets of Las Vegas. Or the time my sister flew over the Grand Canyon in a helicopter with two other people she had never met who happened to be from Shepparton.

I would expect these instances to be one in a million, but weirdly enough they seem to happen a lot and I find it intriguing.

My latest intriguing meeting happened to me over the weekend. I coincidentally came across a woman for a third time ...

I first came across this woman in a VicRoads office in June, 2017. We both happened to be waiting by the window as most of the seats in the waiting room were full. She started a conversation with me and we got to chatting for half an hour and she told me about a particular road experience.

In February last year, I was wandering behind Aquamoves near the lake with my camera when the same lady approached me, asking about my photography. After minutes of speaking with her it clicked, she was the woman from VicRoads last year. There we stood and had an in-depth chat about life for over an hour. When I left I jokingly said I would see her around again soon.

And sure enough, it was when I was on my way home from work on Friday night. In a rush to get home, get changed and keep my dinner plans with family, I was turning onto my road when I saw the woman’s face in the review mirror of the van in front of me — also turning onto my road.

I was in a rush and considered continuing on, knowing I did not have a spare minute if I was going to make it to dinner on time; but keeping in mind our history of long chats, I felt it was only right to get her attention and say hello again.

Funnily enough, she slowed to wave me past — as if she wanted me to overtake her so she could keep chugging along in her old van — and so I pulled up beside her and yelled out her name.

At first I think she was a little concerned for her safety, having some person come right up beside her, wind their window down and start yelling. But when I told her who I was, we shared the same amusement in the unusual meeting. Turned out a quick stop to simply say hi somehow swallowed up an hour and a quarter, where we gradually went from being stopped in the middle of the road yelling through our windows to having pulled across to the side and met halfway between cars.

In that time we covered a lot — from her upcoming surgery, employment status, living arrangements and future plans, to my plans of building a house. But these two things in particular that she said struck me: she told me she had not one family member and she repeatedly told me how lucky I was to have had parents that were smart in many areas and raised me in a way that set me up to succeed in life. She said her parents had never done that for her.

Since then I’ve drifted down many thought paths, but I have spent solid hours just imagining what it must be like to have no family members.

Coming from a family of five kids with two sisters, two brothers, two brothers-in-law, two sisters-in-law, five nieces, three nephews and another little one on the way, I literally have family coming out my ears.

And as a tight-knit family, being together is such a normal thing. Seeing my mum for lunch most days is normal; having my dad there to help me when I have car problems or something needs to be fixed is normal and hanging out with brothers and sisters is normal. Sometimes though I think these things have become so normal that I almost take them for granted.

Realising this woman had no family made me see her in a different light. When we began our conversation I was aware of the time that was slipping away, but when she mentioned her lack of family half an hour in, my focus changed. No longer was I only thinking of what I wanted to do and where I wanted to be. I stopped to think: just maybe she needed someone to talk to.

I thought maybe the crazy coincidence of running into this woman again was not in fact a coincidence after all.

So when she finished up the conversation, I was left reminded that people who cross my path will often need something — whether that be someone to show them that they care by listening to them and engaging in a conversation or whether that be simply a smile ... Whatever it is, I want to be the person who gives it to them. So I remind myself to constantly be aware of the opportunities around me — because I will never know the impact one small gesture could have on someone’s day.

Laura Briggs is a journalist at The News.