We’re In It Together

This is Annie….

Annie and her best friend, Marissa

….but before I share the story she emailed me, I want to share with you how she and I are connected.

On the day before what should have been the 21st birthday of her best friend, Annie found herself crying and reflecting on the tragic loss of Marissa merely one month prior. Marissa had recently died in a car accident and now Annie sat alone, on a day she should have been planning a celebration with her. For whatever reason, Annie decided to Google on her phone,  “people who lost best friends and how they cope”… and up popped my website and the first Blog Entry I ever posted.  (See Happy Birthday, Margaret Stewart ). This story talks about the loss of my best friend at age 20 in a car accident too.  Annie wrote a comment on my page- and in that moment I knew i had to reach out to ensure she didn’t feel alone. Annie would later write to me, ” I knew I had to comment on it. I just felt the need to say SOMETHING…I felt as if at that moment I was truly being connected in some way. And even if you never did respond back, I am still happy I came across your blog. You seemed to be so real and genuine. It was just very nice to read especially being in the emotional state I was in I also lost my best friend the same way.”  I truly believe Annie was meant to find me and we have stayed connected ever since. And… it just so happens she lives in the same city as my Mom, so one day we plan to meet.

Now that you know how Annie and I connected, this is the story she sent me last week

“So…last night as I was walking to my friend’s car from a night of dancing, I passed by this obvious homeless man and a younger guy. When I used to live in NY and we’d go to the city there were homeless people everywhere, and my mom would occasionally give them money. However, I have been skeptical whether or not some people who do that- especially those I’ve seen in SC walk around begging-  are genuine. I really didn’t know. This man was sitting on the street, minding his own business, but for some reason I decided to stop.

It was pretty chilly last night, very windy, and to see this man sitting there in the cold upset me. At first I said hello and basically told him I didn’t have hardly ANY money, just some change, but I would really like to help. The old man obliged. I still was wondering, could he be sitting here just to take people’s money?? Is he really homeless? He started to tell me stories of the many jobs he’s had in his life and that he work hard his entire life, but couldn’t continue the labor he was doing. And now, he was on the street and it was too cold out..

Annie always wears her smile

Then the younger guy sitting near him told me that he is a in fact a teacher at the school the homeless attended many years ago. He asked me to read the back of his t-shirt which said, “we’re in it together, we’re all one.” That is when it really hit me!!! I immediately thought of you, Carlyn,  and your ‘Strangers to Friends’ group and how much GOOD you do for people, opening our eyes to those around us. I began to tell him as much as I know about your mission and both men seemed to be extremely interested. A friend who was with me had been standing there the whole time, and somehow ..we began discussing nationalities and ethnicity and he said, “in the big scheme of things, I don’t care , I’m just HUMAN.” And I thought to myself wow, that is so nice…such a togetherness to it.  I then told the guys that I honestly don’t go up to complete strangers…never, ever. but, something inside me just told me to do it.. and I listened. I guess, because deep down, I really wanted to.

Talking with those men completely filled my heart up with love. I proceeded to go through my purse and scramble up all the change I had, and gave it to the homeless man. I actually felt quite embarrassed that I couldn’t give him more.  However, to see his face light up was an indescribable feeling. I began to get teary eyed, at that point trying not to let them notice ( I was embarrassed!)  The homeless man then thanked me and told me how happy he was that I gave what I had. He told me that he felt in his heart love will come my way, that doing good for others will come back to me. That was such a special moment to me that I asked him if I could give him a hug, but before he could answer, I went for it. Hugging him made it complete.

Carlyn, you have truly inspired me, and I know many other, too, and I want to share this story with others. The little that I know about your Strangers To Friends mission – I knew I should listen to my heart and take the risk.”

This truly made my night. Thank you for what you do. ♥



The Art of Happiness by Deedee W.

My dear friend, Deedee wrote this email to me to share what transpired shortly after we talked about “Happiness”.  I found this very powerful & and asked her if I could extend this inspiration to all of you. 🙂

“SO the most incredible thing happened to me Tuesday night that had to do with this very topic!!!!! I prayed for it and waited patiently for the Universe to respond and of course, It did!”


I (Deedee) was on the plane to Tucson after I spoke to you (Carlyn) and since the flight was less than full I choose to sit  next to this guy who was quietly reading his book. I really had no intention of starting a conversation with this guy instead I picked up a magazine and flipped thru its pages. As the cabin lights dimmed, the man sitting next to me reached over and turned on my reading light for me…a very sweet and thoughtful gesture. I looked down and noticed the book he was reading and to my surprise it was based in yogic philosophy and meditation. I commented on the book asking it he was enjoying it and this opened the door to a beautiful conversation that shifted my perspective on happiness.

Noah was flying from Seattle to Tucson to be with his father who was undergoing surgery for crones disease. In Seattle, Noah spends his time doing theatre and counseling gay men who are HIV positive. He finds great joy in community and helping others. He spoke about his path to happiness, about his coming out and the acceptance of his Truth. He mentioned that he was also involved in a 12-step program and I shared with him my own path to recovery and healing.

As we started out decent, Noah gifted me with a book that was dear to him, saying that we can only keep what we give away. The book was called ‘The Art of Happiness’ co-authored by the Dalai Lama. Basically to make a looooong story short, the book does mention our ‘happiness set point’ but explains that we can train in happiness, that our minds are pliable. Our basic and fundamental human desire is to be happy. By remembering that we are innately compassionate and kind beings we can begin to view the world more gently. The book also talks about Pleasure vs. Happiness- Pleasure, although it can be immediately gratifying, ultimately leads to more suffering while the path to happiness is one of self-discipline and isn’t necessarily always easy. To walk the path of happiness, we must ask ourselves the simple question “Will this [action] bring me pleasure or happiness?”

Anyway, for me waking up early to run in the morning sunshine, an authentic conversation with a friend, helping others, reaching out to those in need, eating well, remembering to BREATHE…these are things I have learned that create positive emotions and raise my happiness baseline!

What do you do to create more positive emotion in your life?

From Strangers…to Friends. Written by: Vanessa Drake

I truly believe that the greatest gift a friend can give… is their friendship. The story of how Vanessa and I crossed the line from Strangers to Friends is one that has changed both of our lives for the better. Over the past few months, I’ve asked friends to share one of their own “Stranger to Friend” stories with me so that I could post it on my site as a “Feature Friend Story”. To my surprise, on my 33rd Birthday, Vanessa sent me a story; the story of US. Below is her version… an incredible story of overcoming self doubt to accomplishing a great feat. Thank You, Vanessa! Our friendship is one that I’ll always and forever cherish; this story means the world to me 🙂

The start of the MS Challenge Walk

…..I am a little ashamed of how long it has taken me to get this story locked into the Strangers To Friends site but from the other stories I have read on the site, I find that I am not the only one that believes things happen when they need to, timing is everything….
This is the story of how Carlyn Shaw went from being a stranger, just a voice on the other end of the line, to my inspiring friend. In the fall of 2008, I was looking to leave my current job as an RN in a doctors office to explore something more lucerative, as well as challenging. So I started investigating the world of travel nursing. By some amazing stroke of luck, or divine intervention, I was connected to Carlyn as my recruiter.
At this time, I was working on all areas of my life……in the process of becoming a stronger, more confident person, and learning more about who I was. I was in need of something drastic to stir things up a bit but, simply said, I was terrified of the prospect of traveling to a far away place, by myself, not knowing a single soul. However, because of how amazing, supportive, and overwhelmingly convincing Carlyn can be, she wouldn’t take no for an answer and soon I found myself driving from North Carolina to the big ol’ state of Texas.
As it turned out, Carlyn and I would only be in the recruiter/recruitee relationship for a very short time.  Her path was leading her other places as well. Reluctantly, I found another recruiter and ended up coming back to North Carolina, working for a few months, unhappily, only to find myself in the job I am in today. And this is where I was meant to be. I wouldn’t know it until months later, but going to Texas was one of the best things that could have happened to me. That person that I was trying to find, trying to become, started taking shape while I was there. And if it wasn’t for Carlyn convincing me to go, that above everything else, it would all be okay, I might not be where I am today. Again, timing is everything.
For the next 2 years, Carlyn and I stayed in touch through email, facebook, and a periodic phone call, becoming friends….I had a sideline view of all the things she was experiencing and doing in her life and it made me want to experience new things as well. Did I mention she was inspiring? One of those was the MS Challenge Walk…..50 miles over three days in San Diego.
SO…..NEVER having been to San Diego, or California for that matter, NEVER having raised money for a cause, NEVER having walked 50 miles, and NEVER having met the one and only Carlyn in person……I signed up for the walk, raised money (with Carlyns help of course), and ventured off to the west coast (I was traveling the country alone, again,…..but this time with a heck of a lot more confidence)!!!!

onloy 10 miles left!

I was nervous (but excited) to meet Carlyn face-to-face for the first time. But, as soon as she pulled up to the curb at the airport, it was like we had done it a million times before. This “my friends” is the power of the human connection that she talks about. You take two people who live on opposite sides of the USA and wha-lah, STRANGERS TO FRIENDS!!! (As you can imagine, I had an amazing time in San Diego. A trip that will stay with me forever.)
Now as fate would have it, Carlyn has moved to my neck of the woods, to Wilmington, NC.  Who would have thought?? So now, I hope to be able repay her in some way for all that she has helped me accomplish. I am proud to be part of a friendship that is a by-product of her passion, her mission to connect us. She continues to inspire me and I hope to learn and meet more through her example.

Won’t you be my neighbor?

Before I jump into my story about Stacey Fontaine-Skelly, I must give you a little background on where our journey of Stranger to Friend initially began…

I had noticed that a beautiful couple (who I’d later learn to be Stacey & Mark) moved into the apartment unit below mine. Naturally, I was intrigued by clues I’d discovered: his Irish accent, her dark skin, their youthful spirit, the Florida license plate, the wedding rings, the puppy… but most importantly, I was drawn to their smiles.  Which is why now it baffles us that it took so long for us to become friends, but once again, timing is everything!

Having fun with Stacey and Mark at the Hillcrest Farmers Market this morning!

Later in the week, my landlord informed me that the couple I was curious about below had actually decided to move to a bigger apartment a few streets away by the end of the month. This meant 2 things: 1) if our friendship was to evolve to more than smiles and friendly hellos I had to act fast… and 2) I had the chance to hand pick my next neighbor. (I do love seeing the glass half full)

Our first night as friends, New Years Eve 2010

As luck, or rather, opportunity, should have it, I happen to meet another gal merely days before, Lyndsie Boarman, who seemed like the perfect “new neighbor” type. Lyndsie moved from Denver, hardly knew  a soul…and was currently renting an apartment in the ‘burbs she found on Craigslist. A mutual friend connected us in hopes I could show her more of San Diego.  After a few calls, Lyndsie and I met, for the very first time, at my house at 8:30 PM Dec. 31, 2009 and we literally rang in the New Year as New Friends. That was a first for me, too! On Jan. 2nd,  Lyndsie came over to check out the apartment.  Naturally, I went down to the apartment with her – which is how Stacey and I FINALLY had the chance to chat.  Within a few minutes of meeting, I ran back upstairs, grabbed a Strangers to Friends card and Stacey and I giddily began our journey. Within the next 3 weeks, Stacey and Mark moved to North Park and Lydnsie moved in. In’t it funny that sometimes it take a friend MOVING to actually bring you closer together? Well, that’s exactly what happened with us.

Stacey and I exchanged text messages over the next few months, desperately trying to coordinate schedules but it never seemed to work: until last week!  She invited me to come over to check out their new place for an inexpensive yet intimate night of  Trader Joe’s Vino and Domino’s Pizza (the perfect combo!) On my way over, I had this feeling as if I was going to hang with a friend I had known for a while, only in reality, this was completely new for us. But it felt familiar. For the first time, we sat and talked, as girls, for hours. We talked about our back grounds, our passion for theater, our slacking in the kitchen abilities, our love for live music, became Facebook friends and made plans for a future Yoga Date. I then gave her my latest and greatest Strangers To Friends card with this web address on the front. We hugged good bye and thanked each other for the wonderful night. I knew then and there, Stacey was a true friend. I could feel it in my soul.

Fast forward to this morning, months later.  I woke up at Tina’s place in Ocean Beach, unable to sleep while the airplanes roared over head so, without thinking too much, I decided to check my email on my iphone.  In an instant, what started off as a morning I wanted to be anything but awake, turned into a morning I couldn’t wait for Tina to stir so I could share with her what I had received. Below is the email I got from Stacey which moved me so much, I felt the need to share with all of you. Her decision to be open with me was the inspiration I needed to write my next story. You never know, your new friend could really be the girl next door… 🙂

To the fascinating Carlyn:

I have no idea why it took me so long to read your blog, but, as you wrote yourself, everything happens for a reason; even the timing of things. Well, I couldn’t have read that blog at a more perfect time.

I have been loving San Diego so far. To me, it is Pleasantville and, although my mom would kill me if she heard me say this…I don’t see myself moving back to Florida annnnytime soon. I also love spending time with Mark. He really is my best friend and I’m never bored when I’m with him. All that said, I am the type of person that has this deep (and, I think, natural) need for friendships outside of ONLY a significant other.

I have the most amazing best friends back home who I speak with everyday, but they all live across the country and none of us have the means to see one another as often as we’d like. At times, it feels awful not having a girlfriend around to just talk girl nonsense or girl seriousness with. I miss it.

So that brings me back to the fact that this was the perfect time to read your blog.

I am at this transitional point in my life where I’m slowly learning more and more about myself.  I feel like things are slowly coming together in the most wonderful of ways. I love life, and I think I’m a positive person. I married the perfect man for me, we moved out here, I’m beginning to pursue a dream I’d been afraid to pursue before, I looooove where I live-literally..I love the city, I love the neighborhood, I love the apt. I love my job bc it’s not just a fun environment, but it affords me the time to pursue acting on the side. And I’ve been reading really uplifting fantastic books that keep the positivity train moving (just finished The Alchemist…man, amazing) But this last thing that is ever so important…new friendships, I feel as though I am failing. Completely and utterly failing. I have met many people this past year and have become very close to one, Sade, who is such an incredible and fun person, but your blog struck such a chord with my heart.

Making new friends was easier when I was younger. I possessed this strange confidence and didn’t over analyze so much. I just enjoyed meeting new people and developing lasting relationships with them. In a simple way. Now, I feel like when I meet new people, I have such trouble opening myself up like you do! I could never have just struck up a convo with the woman in the airport like you did, unless she spoke to me first. Or even meeting up with your old friend- I probably would have thought to myself “wow, it’s been so long, what will I even talk to her about…maybe I shouldn’t meet up with her”. And when I’m in planes, I hurriedly put my headphones on so I DON’T have to talk to people…and what’s crazy is, is that THAT is not me! I love people, I love hearing people’s stories, I love knowing others adventures, hopes, dreams, lives…when did I become like this? Why do I keep calling myself shy and introverted if I’m really not? I love vibrancy and crowds and excitement and people!

Your blog made me yearn for a new way of thinking. I want to be open and available for new people and new experiences. I want to force myself to make strangers into friends, so that soon after, it won’t be forced, it’ll just be so embedded into who I am and what I do. I think I read it at a perfect time bc I feel as though right now, I am ready in my mind and heart in a way that I wasn’t before.

Anyway, I just want to say I am so happy to have met you. I’m kinda mad at myself for not taking advantage of our friendship when I lived on campus ave. I think that had a little to do, also, with the fact that Mark and i just got married and were getting to know each other all over again all alone in this new city… but again, everything has its time.

So here is to new life philosophies, new adventures, and new friendships. Thank you Carlyn the Fascinating! 🙂 “

THANK YOU, STACEY!!!! Your email INSPIRED me to write again. As you said, it’s Cynical Goodness… and I love you for it.

But even more so, THANK YOU LYNDSIE– because if it were not for you and our insanely instant bond, I would never have been led to Stacey. Ain’t Karma, GREAT!!! XOXO

***This email brought tears to my eyes. My mission is working. I want to open the hearts and the minds of people I meet and Stacey confirmed with me that I have done just that. This is just the beginning 🙂 ***

Won’t you meet your neighbor, too?