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  • Writer's pictureAnn Louden


Updated: May 17, 2021

Happy April Fool’s Day! It’s hard to play jokes during a pandemic without coming off as overly alarming. So I am settling for ordinary interactions today that will at least get people to smile. I promise to report back if I succeed in fooling anyone. In the meantime, I’ll tell you a story about what happened yesterday. Since I work from home, I look for any excuse to take a break outside. So, in spite of a threatening sky, I decided that running out of SOS pads in the kitchen was enough reason to venture out of the apartment. As tiny raindrops started spitting from the heavy dark clouds, I headed to the neighborhood market across the street.

Since I live in Manhattan, getting to my destination was by foot. This was going to be a ten-minute diversion.

Leaving my 20th-floor apartment, I headed to the bank of elevators in the hallway, passing four closed apartment doors along the way. I pushed the brass button for the elevators (it never stays lit, causing me to question whether I hit it at all!). When the doors opened on the arriving elevator car, it was full (Covid capacity is two). I pushed the button for a second time. The next elevator arrived, doors opened, and it was also full. I pushed the button for the third time, waited, and this time, an empty car arrived. It had taken seven minutes, but now I was on my way. At the ground level, I walked through the lobby, out the revolving door, onto the curved sidewalk path, past the fountains, to the sidewalk, and a few steps to the corner to cross the street. The street light was red, so I studied the moving truck parked outside the front of the building. The movers were struggling to stack a huge box onto the truck already filled to capacity.

When the light changed, I crossed the street, watching for cars illegally turning right on red to get to the FDR. Even though pedestrians have the right of way, New York City drivers are aggressive, and vigilance crossing any street is an absolute must. At the entrance to the market, I spotted a Corgi on a leash tied to the front door. Waiting patiently for his owner, he stood at attention as customers filed past him into the single aisle of the store.

I never cease to be amazed at all the flowers and food items stocked in such a tiny space. Even with floor markers for social distancing, it’s not uncommon to bump into other customers trying to pass in the tight quarters.

The SOS pads were at the very back of the store. Walking down the crowded aisle before locating them, I looked left and right and found more items to buy. Two shopping bags later, I had gotten much more than cleaning supplies. My purchase: A carton of six brown eggs Five bananas A small tub of bleu cheese crumbles A cucumber Blue tortilla chips Sourdough thin pretzels 6 oz. tomato paste 1/2 pound of deli ham Chocolate coconut gelato ... and the SOS pads My tab ran $43.68. To make myself feel better about the unplanned purchases, I began to calculate what I could make by combining them: A bleu cheese/ham/cucumber omelet, with a side of tortilla chips, followed by gelato topped with bananas and pretzels for dessert?! Still, there was no plausible use for the tomato paste in this concoction.

Turning Ordinary Experiences into Connection

My outing for the day took twenty minutes, not ten. Why? Because, I am a connection junkie. I made the trip not about buying SOS pads, but instead all about connecting.

Here's how: 1. In my hallway on the 20th floor, I encountered the building’s housekeeper. I wished her a good day. She stopped vacuuming the carpet to say hello. 2. When the first two elevators arrived on my floor, and the occupants signaled there was no room for me, I waved and told them: “No problem. Have a good day!” 3. In the lobby, I engaged the doorman in a conversation about the weather. (Lame topic, I know, but I wasn’t sure if I needed to return upstairs for an umbrella). He told me he thought I’d be able to get back before the rain started to pour. 4. At the crosswalk, while I was waiting for the light, I yelled out to the movers: “You can do it!” And they laughed. 5. In the store, I asked the deli counter attendant how his day was, and joked with the person at the cash register that I had come for the SOS pads, and instead filled two shopping bags. 6. As the owner was reunited with her corgi at the front door, I stopped to tell her that my daughter’s first dog was a corgi and how much we had loved “Beau”. 7. On the street I smiled and waved at pedestrians holding hands – one a family, and the other a caregiver and her elderly charge.

In all these moments, I chose to interact, rather than to stay silent. I chose to engage, rather than to keep to myself. Whenever there is an opportunity to make a connection, I take it. Yes, I wanted to brighten someone else’s day. But selfishly, these exchanges elevated my mood and gave me a momentary adrenaline burst. My trip for SOS pads provided seven chances at connecting, and I claimed each one.

How Easy is it to Connect in a Place Like New York?

My shopping trip conversations were one-off connections, the casual interactions that grease the wheel of daily living. It would have been easy not to have had them. And I will never know what a difference they made for the people I spoke with. But what I do know is that they made a difference to me. Do you take opportunities to engage in “no agenda” exchanges? It’s a personal choice, of course. But if you do, good for you. Each exchange gives you the social courage to build more layered and more intentional relationships. When I moved to the Northeast four years ago, it was beyond scary coming alone to the biggest city in America. I knew 30 or so people, most of them casually. A handful were friends.

I realized the way to survive in New York was to make a promise to myself to find and build new relationships, each and every day. How? By being an intentional connector. Now four years later, I have met hundreds of people and made at least 300 friends -- ten times the number I had when I arrived.

Of course, Covid has certainly made connecting more challenging. But it’s still possible. And we need connection now more than ever. That’s why I am so happy to see a semblance of life returning to the Big Apple. Street vendors are out, food trucks are doing business, and the subways are crowded again.

In a fast-moving, bustling, high-energy city, it’s easy to miss (or just not take) the chance to be a connector. But I believe if we want it enough, we can capitalize on those moments. For our mental health. For our sense of community. And for the chance to change the course of our lives.

My Book about Social Courage and Connection

That’s why I am writing a book about how to exhibit social courage and the skill set needed to be an expert connector. My interviews with well-known leaders, both in the United States and beyond, reveal the inspiring values of connectors who are changing and saving lives. I can’t wait to share those lessons with readers. As I move forward with plans for the book, I need your advice. Which of these book cover designs gets your attention? Which is relatable to you? Which would make you pick up the book? All thoughts and comments are welcome!

Yesterday, my need for SOS pads gave me multiple chances to make connections. Think about how you can build more bridges to others in your life. Whether it’s the one-off connection, or the contact which will enhance you personally or professionally, both you and the recipient of the connection will benefit. Being a connector is the way to move forward past Covid and into the future you imagine for yourself.

Just make one connection at a time. I am standing by and applauding you!


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