Mom, We Got in the Car with a Stranger Today

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Last night we ventured out to neighboring villages with a complete stranger.  Well he wasn’t a complete stranger, we met him at the train station on our way back to Belgium from Luxembourg.  We were all at the Charleroi station waiting to get on the train to Mariembourg, when they made an announcement about the train in French.  The train was sitting at the station with no lights on and people were hesitating to get on.

Since the announcement seemed important Jon asked the gentleman next to us in French, if he spoke English.  He replied, “Ah! Yes, of course.”

So Jon asked, “Wonderful, what did they just say about the train?”

“The train is not going all the way to Covin, the cables have been cut.”

“Is the train going to Mariembourg?  That is our stop.”

“Mariembourg.  That is mine stop as well.  I will find out, follow me.”

We followed this man all around the train, as he spoke to many people in French trying to find out if the train would stop in Mariembourg.  Finally, we found out, yes, it would be fine.  So we found a seat on the train and invited him to sit with us.

The gentleman’s name was Johan and we ended up talking for the next hour until our stop about everything from politics, healthcare and business.  He was excited for us and our journey.  He said, “We have it all wrong.  You should travel now while you are young and work when you are old.”  He ended up writing down is home address and phone number and inviting us to come to his home to join him for a drink. I was in shock.  He gave his most personal information to us, complete strangers, on the train.

We ended up connecting on facebook and when he realized we didn’t have a car he offered to come pick us up and take us to his favorite local brewery.  I’m not going to lie.  I was a bit hesitant.  After all, it is ingrained in us from a young age, don’t talk to strangers, don’t get into the car with strangers.  But we opted to take the risk, he seemed like a nice enough guy (sure, that’s what they all say before they drink the kool-aid).

We ended up driving to multiple different towns to find a spot that was open.  Apparently many places close in January because of so few tourists. We ended up at one of his favorite cafes in Nismes, Belgium.  The town was adorable, with a river running through the center and a chateau lit up by ground lighting in the center garden in town.

At the cafe, we were still able to get the local brew, Super des Fagnes, Johan wanted us to try.  Once we sat down he told us, “My friends think I am too trusting, doing things like this.  But what is life, if I can’t trust?”

I exhaled.  What is life if we can’t trust the goodness in other humans?  What is the consequence of being brought up never to trust strangers?  Are we missing out on opportunities of friendship, everyday miracles, local hidden treasures?

If we hadn’t trusted the good in Johan, we wouldn’t have found out he has never been to the U.S. but has always wanted to go to Dayton, Ohio.  “WHAT!  Dayton, Ohio!?” I responded in disbelief!  “That is where you want to visit? That is where my family is from!”  I said with my jaw hanging open.  I couldn’t wait to tell my parents and aunt and uncle, we were talking about Dayton, Ohio in a small cafe in Nismes, Belgium!  The company, Barco, Johan had worked for in Belgium, had a headquarters in Dayton and he had always wanted to visit.  And instantly we were connected even more than before.

For the next few hours, while sipping Belgian beer, we were honored with stories of Johan’s personal pain of lost time with family from working too hard and the happy stories of time now, with grandchildren.  Watching his eye’s light up talking about his children and grandchildren.  These are the moments that make up the richness of life.

We now have an open invitation to stay at his home on any return trip to Belgium and an enthusiastic tour guide for future trips to Ghent or Brussels.

We got into the car with a stranger and gained a friend and more trust in humankind.

Johan & Jon

Thank you Johan for trusting in us, complete strangers.  We are happy to have you as a friend!

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