One of the joys of travel is the opportunity to meet new people and experience different cultures — sometimes, even when we are firmly encamped in our own cities with no immediate plans to travel, we ourselves become the people that other travelers meet.

On serendipity

Serendipity is one of my favorite words — its meaning, according to Merriam-Webster, is “the faculty or phenomenon of finding valuable or agreeable things not sought for.” In other words, serendipity is an unexpected surprise that brings good fortune, happiness or both.

Still from the movie Serendipity, John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale seated at a table having a dessert.

Each time I encounter the term, I am reminded of the 2001 film of the same name starring John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale — a love story arising from a chance encounter. While there is no romance to be discovered in this tale of my own serendipitous experience (sorry to disappoint!), it was nonetheless very agreeable to me and brought a great deal of joy!

A chance meeting with two German flight attendants

The day was Fat Tuesday — the end of Mardi Gras. I was in Boston and, a few nights prior, had made a plan to meet up with a friend for dinner and a drink. We selected a time and place (a local sports bar), but delayed our meeting by an hour due to a longer-than-expected work day.

John seated in his wheelchair next to two women and a security guard at a pub.

About halfway into our first drink, I was approached by a woman who was curious about my power wheelchair — a 2022 Permobil F3 with ActiveHeight technology. While some disabled people get frustrated by strangers’ interest in their mobility equipment, I welcome it — I never turn down the opportunity to meet and converse with someone new.

The woman, let’s call her A, was soon joined by her friend, who I’ll refer to as B. The pair commented on the multitude of airline baggage tags attached to my wheelchair and I soon learned that these women were in fact flight attendants out for a meal before their flight home to Germany the next day.

A conversation that might have lasted only a few seconds continued for hours. We chatted about wheelchairs, airplanes, travel, politics and so much more. The conversation became so engaging that we forgot about our food and drinks! By the time we parted ways, I knew that I had made new friends in A and B.

But, something of consequence — something truly unexpected, exciting, and serendipitous — happened before we left the restaurant.

An unexpected, serendipitous trip to Germany

Just before leaving, A and B proposed a wild idea — they invited me to join them on their flight home to Frankfurt, Germany the next day. It was to depart less than 24 hours later and, while most people would likely have said no (including my friend from Boston!), I accepted. “Absolutely,” I exclaimed!

Less than 24 hours later, I made my way to the Boston Airport and boarded a Lufthansa Airbus A340 bound for Frankfurt, Germany. My new flight attendant friends greeted me and we were soon en route to the European continent.

On arrival, I had a coffee with A, then set off to explore what is a truly underrated German city. I visited a few museums, ate an original frankfurter, had a German beer, and prepared for my flight home to the United States the following morning. It was a whirlwind trip — one I could never have imagined taking when I set off for the pub on Tuesday night in Boston.

Final thoughts

From a chance meeting in a Boston sports bar to a transatlantic flight to Germany in a day! How serendipitous is that? As many of my friends have said, it’s “classic John” to have an experience so unbelievably random — but, in reality, this incredible story started like all others have… with a simple hello!

After arriving in Germany, I took to Instagram to share a few thoughts on what had led me there. I’ll close this blog post by republishing those thoughts here:

If you keep an open mind, always respond in earnest to a “hello,” and find joy in chance encounters, serendipity awaits!

In reflecting on these wonderfully surprising days, I can’t help but think about the hundred tiny decisions that combined to form this moment. Planning an evening out. Choosing a particular pub. Arriving at the right moment. Responding to a hello. Being crazy enough to book a last-minute flight. That’s just in the span of one day, but in reality, the place where you are right now, the moment you find yourself in, is the result of an infinite number of decisions and chance occurrences — a timeline of events that began at the dawn of time. It’s a humbling reality and reason to be grateful for the magnificent gift of life!

We’re so fortunate to be alive in this moment. Put yourself out there and be open to allowing serendipity find you.

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