Walking down the streets of New Haven, I was determined to find an aesthetically pleasing, unfamiliar coffee shop where I could plant myself for a few hours to write. I noticed a family walking in my direction holding white and brown coffee cups, so I decided to walk in the direction they were leaving from. Sure enough, I found a coffee shop by Yale’s Science Park entitled “Fussy Coffee Shop.” Their logo is a pair of arms wrapped in snakeskin forming an infinity symbol while holding hands. I was immediately hooked. I walked in, and the two baristas were so fashionable that I couldn’t help but compliment them.
“Okay, I just have to say that I adore your sense of style,” I tell the first barista, who is wearing winged eyeliner that could cut glass, along with sky high black boots. The barista proceeded to tell me about the artist who made her earrings, reminiscing on the day she purchased them. I am now going to use a nerdy Zelda reference here – in the video game Breath of the Wild, there are fresh, glittering healing pools that allow your HP (health points) to increase. Tiny hearts in the top left corner of your screen will replenish themselves until your character has fully healed. Welcoming these subtle, yet effective social interactions back into my life after a year of isolation feels like standing in one of those sparkling healing pools.
Throughout my trip, these little grand moments became more and more prominent. Meeting my professor Mary Collins and my classmates for the first time, despite our virtual setting, filled me with unexpected levels of joy. Mary’s sheer joy and passion towards the workshop was so charismatic that the limitations of the virtual atmosphere seemed to dissolve almost entirely. Witnessing such effortless enthusiasm from your instructors really adds to the environment immensely, and I was even more determined to soak up every ounce of this experience because of that.
Deciding to expand on this impactful ambiance further, I relocated from New Haven to Boston on a whim. “Hey, would it be crazy if I planned a trip to Boston and left right now?” I asked my friend, who was living there at the time. “Not at all. Spontaneous trips create the best stories,” she replied. An hour later, I was staring outside my train window, watching the shimmering, glistening ocean speckled with ships that adorn crisp, white sails, pass me by. I was filled with glee to see my friend waiting for me outside her car, beaming, ready to adventure alongside me for the next few days.
Suddenly, I was taking in every new sight, sound, and scent with careful focus. I felt like a dog sticking its head out of a car window, completely fascinated with every little corner of the world – vegan ice cream shops, new vibrant murals on the sides of buildings, breakfast sandwiches on biscuits, sailboats on the harbors. Hell, I was even excited about the rotaries in Boston – that’s when you know it’s been a long year away from the world…
Later that evening, I was sitting by the pool with an old friend while the mouth-watering aroma of authentic Mexican cuisine filled the air. Through impeccable timing, a sweet man walked up to us with a platter of hot food wrapped in tinfoil. “Hi, my name is Miguel. This is my wife and family, and we would be honored to share our food with you this evening. We want to welcome you as our neighbors, and would be happy to cook for you anytime,” he said warmly. I was instantly taken to a flashback of my first time visiting Germany, when my exchange family cooked a delicious array of bratwurst, roasted potatoes, vegetables, and salads for me upon my first day arriving. The warmth of that welcome wagon filled my soul, reminding me of the sheer goodness of humanity. Miguel’s kindness not only symbolized the beauty of humanity, but revived my faith in compassion overall.
Since coming home, I’ve experienced countless random acts of kindness from complete strangers. From a woman buying my smoothie after telling me about her organization that specializes in healing communities through random acts of kindness, to a clerk offering me and my date free decadent strawberry cake before closing earlier today, taking time to understand those around me has resulted in some incredibly beautiful, profound moments that I’ll hold onto moving forward.
Although the pandemic presented one of the darkest experiences many of us have ever faced, coming out of the darkness with a deeper appreciation for social interactions creates the opportunity to build relationships more valuable and meaningful than ever before.