In today’s world, we often are hesitant to interact with strangers. Unfortunately, I think we often miss amazing opportunities that can enrich our lives forever. The story of my encounter happened 20 years ago on Jan. 11, 1993.

It was a bitter cold day with blizzard-like conditions when I arrived at Chicago International Airport. I was returning to Madison, Wis., after celebrating my parent’s 50th wedding anniversary. I traveled without a coat, as my husband would be picking me up with my coat. I found myself tired, a bit frightened and bogged down with my baggage and very cold. Our flight from Chicago to Madison was canceled, and we would have to board a bus for the remaining drive.

As I struggled up to the customer service desk to get the details of my next adventure, I could not help but notice a tall young man standing next to me. Feeling unsettled about the situation, I struck up a conversation with this friendly young man. His name was Christoph Schulze, and he was coming from Germany to Madison to attend the University of Wisconsin near where I lived. He loaned me a jacket and helped me with my luggage. As we stood waiting for the bus, I said, “Both of us get on the bus together or none of us!” We agreed and kept our pledge.

Christoph sat behind me, and the conversation flowed as if we had known each other for years. He also shared the best chocolate I had in a long time. As we excitedly shared our stories with each other, our friendship seemed too special to be just a fleeting memory.

As it came time for him to get off at an earlier stop, he quickly said, “Bonnie, where can I reach you so we can stay in touch?” I asked him where he would be staying prior to getting into his dorm. It was unbelievable that I knew his host family quite well and could easily contact him. We quickly exchanged a bit of information, and I said I would talk to you later. Wow, I was so excited about it all and could hardly wait to tell my husband about my incredible experience.

Within the same week, we had Christoph to our home, and that began 20 years of a wonderful relationship. There were many meals shared, shopping trips, homemade chocolate chip cookies, holidays and birthday celebrations. He was like the son I never had. I attended his graduation four years later and was so proud to be there with his parents.

We also were privileged to host his parents in our home several times, and they insisted on us being their guests in Germany. On May 20, 1995, we flew to Frankfurt and then on to Sulingen, a small town in Northern Germany. We were treated royally, and my first trip overseas would provide memories that would last a lifetime.

They welcomed us and showed us wonderful sights, majestic sounds and delicious meals. Even though our languages differed, Christoph was a wonderful translator for all of us. I think we wore him out at times, and we shared many laughs as we tried to converse on our own. Some of the highlights were castles, East Berlin, the Alps, Bavaria, cathedrals, symphonies, Munich and so much more. I journaled each day and, of course, took many pictures to remember this awesome experience.

My friend now makes his home in Atlanta and is soon to become an American citizen. He has accomplished so much in his career, traveled the world and made many friends. I feel so blessed to call him and his family my friends, and I never tire of telling the amazing story we share. I sometimes wonder what if I never spoke to him; what a joy I would have missed in my life. I had a phone call on Jan. 11 from him reminding me of our anniversary of our first meeting. What more could I ask of such a special friend, and I will always treasure our friendship as something that was truly meant to be.

Bonnie Sharp lives in Mount Pleasant and enjoys reading, writing, traveling and spending time with family.