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The best and worst moments of my life have been when cute boys have smiled at me.

I was sitting in my beige SUV with the engine on, getting ready to leave school and head home for the day. Music from my iPod was already flowing through my speakers as I pulled the seatbelt around me and clicked it in.

Looking up and through the windshield, I made eye contact with a student passing by. A boy. A blonde boy. He wore a blue stocking cap over his shoulder-length hair. He smiled at me.

I looked away. Then, back. He was already past the front of my vehicle. Gone.

I shifted into reverse and backed out from my parking spot, wondering. Who was he? Where was he? I couldn’t see him anymore.

I shifted into drive, heading in the direction he had been walking: away. Away from the school, away from the parking lot, away from me. I slowly drove past one car, and another… searching for him with my eyes. Then,  there he was. Walking to his car. Our eyes met, again, and I quickly looked away. Again. Again, again, again.

Who was he? Why did I look away? What would have happened if I hadn’t? What if I had smiled back? What if I had stopped my car and jumped out?

Driving away, doing none of those things, I wondered.

I thought about the potential in that moment: sitting there, watching the boy smile. I thought about all of the small moments of potential that have passed me by. I thought of that boy who had passed me by, and I him.

I think people really want to love one another. I think that’s all we really want to do. It’s what the good people want, anyway – the ones you want to hang out with – not the psychopaths or corrupt politicians.

It’s a great, lifelong struggle, though. It’s hard to love people. People that aren’t your family – people you haven’t lived with your entire life. It’s hard to get to know someone to such a great extent that you feel like you know them, that you can trust them. It might take months or years before you can love a person. Or, maybe you just can’t love a particular someone. That stuff happens, too. It just doesn’t work out – you don’t get along well enough, your personalities clash, you don’t think the same things are funny, your world views are too different, you like different music – whatever.

How much do you have to know about a person before you can love them? In any sort of relationship – friends, in-laws, romantic partners. Can you ever understand a person enough to love them? Won’t they always be able to surprise you, to hurt you? Do we even understand ourselves? Maybe not. Maybe you don’t understand why you didn’t laugh at the cute Starbucks barista’s joke even when you thought it was funny. Maybe you don’t know why you averted your eyes when that black-haired girl was looking at you in the hall.

Maybe you don’t really have to know a person to such a great extent in order to love them – maybe you just need some level of basic understanding, some I-get-you.

Yet, how do you come to love people – come to understand them – when they are so far away? There is such a great divide between people. It’s hard to bridge that gap. It’s hard to be brave or foolish enough to do it. And yet, it’s so easy. It’s so easy to ask someone how their day is going – it’s even easier to simply make eye contact and smile. It’s easy even to walk up to a stranger and ask them if they’d like to have coffee with you sometime.

Why is it that what we want most is to love each other – to understand, to support, to be happy together – and yet it is the hardest thing to do, and the easiest? Is it all really so complicated? Have we just made it complicated? Why? 

We are all interesting, unique people, with dreams and plans, things that inspire us, things that motivate us, things that make us cry. We are all so together here on this planet, and so alone.

So there I was, wandering around in a slightly unfamiliar building on campus, searching for a lady I was supposed to be meeting. (Spoiler Alert: She had forgotten about the meeting and was already at home with her children as I circled the first floor, searching for her – someone I had never met or seen before.)

She was late. Or, was I in the wrong spot? I thought we said we were meeting at the chairs in the front lobby. But, maybe to her, the front lobby is what to me is the back lobby.

I wandered around. I went to the back of the building. There was a lady sitting there, who looked like she could be who I was looking for. I still had my doubts, though. We said the front lobby, right by those squishy chairs! She must be talking about the same place as I am. Maybe she’s just late.

I walk past the lady sitting in the chair. No, that can’t be her. My eyes search among the other people sitting around the high tables and chairs of the school’s cafe. I make eye contact with a black-haired boy sitting against the windowed-wall.

I don’t look away. He doesn’t look away. It feels like I know him, though I don’t know him. He looks at me like he understands. It doesn’t feel like I am looking at a stranger, though I am. I could walk over to him and it wouldn’t be weird. Instead, I walk away.

I go back to the front of the building. No one new there, only a few high school students still waiting for their parents to come and pick them up. (Yes, there is a high school inside of my University. It’s where I graduated from.)

I check the clock on my phone. She’s almost 15 minutes late now. How long should I wait? Maybe she actually forgot.

I check my email. Nothing. Where is she? I wonder how much longer I should wait for her. I’ve been waiting for what feels like forever – 25 minutes. How much time does she need?

I wait. My mind wanders to that boy. I should have went up to him. I should have said hello. I should have asked him if he felt the same way – if he felt like I wasn’t a stranger, though I was.

I wander around the front lobby, as if changing the location of my body, and my line of sight, will make the woman I’m waiting for suddenly appear. It doesn’t work.

I decide that I need to double check that that woman sitting in the back lobby isn’t actually the lady I’ve been searching for all along – I’m trying to be professional, here. I don’t want to leave without making sure. I don’t want to leave her sitting there, waiting for me.

I walk back around to the area where she’s sitting. I walk in the same direction around as I did before, intentionally avoiding the place where the black-haired boy was sitting.

The woman is still there, sitting, reading something in a folder. This could be her, I think.

I walk up to her, a stranger. She looks up at me as I approach.

Are you M.?, I ask. No, she says. Sorry, I say. No problem, she says, and smiles.

I walk back to the front, passing the boy again. We look at each other. I do nothing. I walk away.

Back in the front lobby, I’m about ready to leave, though I still have some hope that the lady I’m looking for will appear.

She doesn’t.

I leave.

I exit the building out of the back door. The boy is still there, watching me. I ignore him. I can’t do anything else.

As the door closes behind me, I think of him. Who is he? Why is it so easy to look him in the eye? That doesn’t happen very often. Why didn’t I say anything? Of course I didn’t say anything.

Later, I wonder. Our eyes keep meeting in my mind. I remember only his black hair, and his eyes, and how he looked at me, and how I felt. I remember how he was sitting alone in the cafe near the window. I wonder who he is, where he is now. I wonder what would have happened if I had been brave enough, or curious enough, to walk up to him. A stranger. A stranger who didn’t feel like a stranger. A stranger with the eyes of a friend.