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Close encounters of the casual kind

Published November 06. 2010 09:00AM

Sometimes the most casual of contacts can be life changing.

We never know where a casual contact will lead. And we never know which contact will impact us. That's part of what makes life so interesting.

Here's just one example of how a casual encounter can change lives.

A few years ago, when I was living in Palmerton, whitewater kayaking was my passion. I sometimes traveled two hours each way to kayak with an outdoor club.

During one of those trips on the Delaware River, a bubbly blonde who introduced herself as Barbara Shanko paddled next to me and we struck up a conversation. She happened to mention she just bought a home in southwest Florida.

I told her I just came back from visiting friends in Sarasota. They were urging me to buy a home there. But Sarasota is too busy and congested for my taste. I told Barbara I was looking for a laid back place with a water view near the Gulf of Mexico.

She asked if I ever looked in Englewood. She said she's excited about owning a home there and went on to expound about how Charlotte County is an outdoor lover's paradise.

"Where in the world is Englewood?" I asked.

One thing I learned early about Barbara is that she is a "sharer." She makes things happen for others by sharing information and contacts.

Maybe my conversation with her lasted ten minutes. When I left the river that day, I had no idea an encounter on the water would lead to a life change.

But on my next visit to Florida, I had my Sarasota friends drive me to Englewood. We popped into a Realtor's office where we met Zita Bartoloma. Talk about another lucky encounter. She turned into a treasured friend.

Zita spent days patiently driving me all over Charlotte County. She understood the kind of place I wanted and eventually found the perfect home for me in Rotonda West.

When I moved to Florida and joined two kayaking clubs, I found the outdoor lifestyle I craved. I also found something else that was unexpected. I found David. Next month we will celebrate our first wedding anniversary.

When Barbara Shanko joined our kayak club for our recent trip to Tarpon Springs, I told her David and I owe our happiness to her. If it weren't for my chance encounter with her, I would never live in this perfect little piece of Paradise where wonderful things keep happening.

Howard and Shirley Spielman know all about the wonders of a chance encounter.

They built their dream home in Charlotte County but didn't get involved in all the area has to offer because they were too busy taking care of family needs back in Maryland.

All that changed when they went to a picnic in Venice. They filled their plates with wonderful Jewish food and looked for a place to sit down. Howie happened to sit next to a stranger named Jan Norvelle.

What began with a chance encounter over chopped liver led to endearing friendships and lifestyle changes for the Spielmans.

"I didn't know Jan at the time but she looked over at the chopped liver on my plate and mentioned how much she loved it. I offered to share mine and we all struck up a conversation," recalls Howie about his chance meeting with Jan and Ron Norvelle.

Jan told the Spielmans about the Port Charlotte Kayak Club, suggesting they might like to join the club. They did exactly that.

Jan has a knack for listening well when people talk. Best of all, she has a wonderful knack for connecting people with activities and with others who enjoy similar activities.

When she heard Howie talk about having a boat, she also suggested they join the local boat club. She told them it was a great club that will lead to wonderful friendships.

Shirley and Howie found both the kayak club and boat club lived up to Jan's promises. They are now active in both, thriving in new friendships and fun adventures on the water. And it all started because of a chance encounter over chopped liver.

"Jan changes lives," said Shirley.

Shirley is right. I've watched Jan do that many times. In her low-keyed way, she is great at getting people involved in new adventures.

"I don't do anything special," insists Jan. We beg to differ with her.

Shirley notes that Jan introduced others to the joy of ballroom dancing by giving free lessons. She also leads kayak outings for those wanting to try the sport.

Best of all, Jan has been the catalyst for many new friendships because of her knack for introducing people.

If you're lucky enough to have a chance encounter with "sharers" like Barbara or Jan, you never know where it will lead.

Chance encounters can have all sorts of surprising results. Once, while flying to Florida, I found an excellent job after a conversation with a stranger on a plane.

There are business groups that set up socials just so people can benefit from networking.

But we don't have to structure socials to network. It can happen anytime, anywhere, just through a chance encounter.

A chance encounter can lead to a job, a new adventure, a rewarding friendship, or even to love.

That's the beauty of close encounters of the casual kind - we never know what will spring from one little moment in time.

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