I remember on September 11th, 2001, being evacuated from downtown Cleveland. The trains weren’t running under Terminal Tower like they normally do, so I had to catch a series of buses from a neighborhood I wasn’t terribly familiar with in order to get home. Everywhere, strangers were talking to each other. We couldn’t stop. Even the most shy among us had no problem speaking, no way of stopping.

The next day, we all went back to pretending everyone didn’t exist.

In the absence of disaster, ¬†strangers rarely seem to talk. It doesn’t feel urgent enough, I guess, to mention that you read the book the person next to you at the bus stop read, and found the plot to be satisfyingly twisted. Even a stroke of luck (not only did the rain stop just in time, but look, there’s a rainbow!) doesn’t warrant more than a comment, if that.

Luckily, life is full of little disasters.

I’ve learned I can start conversations by helping people clean up the juice their toddler spilled on the floor.

By commenting on the train several of us missed by only a few seconds.

By laughing at my own slip and fall.

By telling two lost and hungry tourists where to find a place to eat.

Little disasters start little discussions. Once you’ve got that, it’s quite easy to grow from a little one into a big one. And big conversations are the seeds from which friendships often grow.

In my dream world, we wouldn’t need to wait for something bad to happen before we could speak to those around us. I won’t pray for trouble. But if disasters big and small are what make our hearts receptive to connection with others, I will use them to the fullest. Bring on the dirty diapers, dropped books, unexpected thunderstorms, and broken pencil woes. If our lives start to suck, at least we’ll have something to talk about.

Of course, we always had something to talk about.

But now you finally want to share with me. How were you to know you had me before hello?