When was the last time a stranger struck up a meaningful conversation with you in public? Well, it happened to me last night at 10:30PM on a crowded bus, rumbling through the rainy streets of San Francisco.

I was on my way home from my weekly dance practice in Berkeley, when the young man sitting in front of me turned around and hesitantly asked me, “What are you passionate about?” It took me a moment to register the experience, as I was listening to a podcast and that was the last question I expected to hear from a stranger at this time of night. Considering the question briefly, I blurted out the first thing that came to mind. “Music,” I said, and he smiled knowingly. He shared that he, too, was a musician of sorts, “a poet.” We shared why and how we felt passionate about music for a bit.

A few stops later the passenger sitting next to me exited the bus, and the young man quickly got up and sat down right next to me. “Tell me about a profound experience you’ve had,” he says. Again, not expecting this second question, I took a moment to ponder.

Just about a year ago I was part of a ceremony celebrating the life of the recently deceased David Bowie. We chose his song “Changes” as the theme of this ritual, and my friend who gave the sermon encouraged us to, “Turn and face the strange” in both our lives and inside ourselves; to not hide in fear from that which we don’t understand or are unfamiliar with. Little did we know then, that 2016 would get more and more “strange” with each passing month. We faced many challenges and losses. The “strange” hiding in the shadows came out into the light and took reign center stage, unbridled and unafraid.

Back on the bus, I was impressed by my companions unbridled courage to turn and face this stranger—me—and ask such poignant questions. I appreciated the opportunity to reflect on the experiences in my life which have brought me joy.

“Profound experiences have usually been in a group of people where we are all in sync, in the flow of life and feeling connection to the divine in those moments.,” I finally reply. Again he smiled in agreement, and we exchanged more stories and ideas. We introduced each other, shook hands, and a moment later I exited the bus at my stop, as he sailed over the hill toward the dark ocean.

Thank you, young man, for reminding me that turning and facing the strange can bring me joy and a full heart.

~ Nick Venegoni, MFT