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I was sitting at Butter + Beans at Seventeen, working on a writing project that has been burning inside me, one that I've been putting off for years now. Not too long after I decided to take some time out from incessantly being on social media, I began to feel that stir to write again.
And so I sat there on a lazy Monday afternoon, on a beautiful public holiday, at a counter facing outside the café as raindrops trickled down the glass (making it an even more perfect setting to be inspired). I wrote a couple of pages about falling quickly in and out of love with climbing and realising that phase of my life was not a waste because it inspired another friend to take climbing really seriously, and about how our stories are all connected and intertwined. I wrote that sometimes we go through life and we think are stories are about ourselves, but they're actually also part of someone else's story. Our lives have an immeasurable ripple effect on other lives.
As I wrote up, I looked up and occasionally met eyes with a pretty girl sitting at the table next to mine, just because we were sitting directly opposite each other. She was with a group of people and they were laughing and talking. After I had filled about three pages with words, it was time for a toilet break. As I made my way back to my table after, she approached me.
"You're Crystal, right? Crystal Cha?"
I paused. It was one of those I-feel-like-I-should-recognise-you-but-I-really-don't moments.
"Um... do I know you from somewhere?" I asked hesitatingly. "Do we have friends in common or something?"
She laughed. "Yeah, actually, we do."
And without mentioning names, it then dawned on me that she was my ex's ex. Yup, my ex's ex. You'd think that what would ensue next would be quite an awkward conversation, given our common history, and the fact that naturally, I've heard about her, I'm pretty sure she's heard about me, and we've probably, like, stalked each other on Facebook, but we've never met in real life.
But it was the most surprisingly natural conversation that followed. I don't know whether it's hipster coffee places or it's just me, but I seem to attract a lot of these random but good conversations while sitting at coffee joints.
We sat down, and chatted briefly about what we're doing at work and the common experience we shared of learning to be friends with someone after dating that person, of seeing an ex as a friend and an individual, instead of as a partner playing a role. We talked about how he was probably one of the only ex-es we've been able to stay good friends with after. And she told me how she wants to go into acting as it's always been a childhood dream of hers. She told me how she used to read my blog, that I was a really good writer, and that I should write a book one day.
She also said, "You know, I probably shouldn't say this, but I was really rooting for you guys."
And I said, "Yeah, well... I guess that's life. Sometimes it's just the circumstances or the timing that's not right."
"Yeah, that's true."
Pretty intense stuff for a ten-minute conversation.
As I sat down later to mull over the completely random conversation I stumbled upon, I started thinking about how normal and natural it felt. Meeting sometime who has played a role like that in the life of someone who was so much a part of a past life could have been, in a different setting, at a different time, incredibly painful or incredibly awkward. And yet it wasn't.
There used to be a time when, because of that past chapter of my life, I couldn't listen to certain artists or certain songs because it was just. so. painful. Everything reminded me of what I once had, everything gave me a reason to miss those little things. But as I sit here now typing this and listening to those songs, I know that things are different now. I know that time has passed, wounds have healed, friendships have been rekindled, mistakes forgotten.
As I thought about the conversation I had, I realised that I was now officially friends with both the ex-es that my ex dated before and after we were together. But the labels don't matter any more. Ex, ex's ex... at the end of the day, we're all just individuals with our stories to tell.
Perhaps it's true that birds of a feather flock together. And perhaps mistakes may be made but even after all is said and done, there is still something that keeps drawing kindred spirits together. Ex or ex's exes, these people have inspired me and encouraged me and undoubtedly played a role in my life. Mistakes and all, I'm thankful that they've been part of my journey.
Like I wrote earlier, I do deeply believe that our stories are all connected, no matter how strange or unlikely the connections might be sometimes. I used to be the type of person who could just move on from one group of friends to another, because how can you possibly fit so many people into your life if new ones keep walking in, I used to think.
But I'm finding more and more now that the people who leave a mark on your life never really leave you. You can spend miles and years apart but the memories you've shared with them and the lessons they've taught you will never ever disappear. As one movie puts it, "Our fingerprints never fade from the live we've touched."
So here's to cherishing our connections to each other. The random, unlikely, unexpected, but oh-so beautiful, special, and unique connections we stumble across as we go about minding our own business. These connections shake up our comfortable little lives and help us see the world through another person's eyes, and they leave us never the same again.
Don't be afraid of connection. Yes, nothing will quite replace the 'firsts'. Nothing will replace the space certain people will always have in your heart. But there will be new 'firsts' to embrace. And the heart always makes room for more.