This morning, I was sitting in the courtyard next to our home working on my computer. The weather was terrific, clear and breezy. I was focused on a deadline that needed my full attention, but that didn't stop me from enjoying the terrific weather... and a wonderfully robust, rich brown-wrapped cigar.
As I settled in, I noticed an older gentleman approaching out of the corner of my eye. On occasion, I've seen this same man walking around our neighborhood. He's tall and lanky, walking gingerly with a cane. By his gait, I suspect he may have had a stroke at some point.
He continued walking towards me -- and the empty chair nearby -- and although I said hello, in truth I was hoping he'd keep walking. Work was calling and I preferred not to be distracted. No such luck!
As he settled down in the adjacent chair, I asked him if my cigar smoke was going to be a bother. If so, I'd be happy to move (surreptitiously solving both our problems!). Man, no such luck again!
He sat quietly and appeared to be enjoying his rest, as I buried my face in my laptop, sending a not-so-subtle signal that I wasn't up for chatting. But it didn't take long for my own inner voice to start whispering in my ear...
"YO, VICTOR ARE YOU REALLY GOING TO IGNORE THIS ELDERLY MAN WHO IS OBVIOUSLY SENSITIVE ENOUGH TO BE TAKING YOUR CUE AND RESPECTING YOUR SPACE BECAUSE YOU'RE SOOO BUSY?" (At times, my inner voice can really be a judgmental pain-in-the-a#%!)
So, I lifted my mug from my laptop, acknowledged what a beautiful day it was and introduced myself. We shook hands and he told me his name, which was Jack. For the next 30 minutes, Jack and I engaged in an incredible conversation.
I learned Jack lived alone and that two years ago Jack did indeed suffer a stroke and according to him, it really changed his life. Before the stroke, he said he was more energetic and felt very sharp mentally. He told me he was trying not to feel sorry for himself because he realized that things could be a lot worst. However, he clearly was unhappy with his circumstances, especially since, as he put it, he was coming to the end of his life.
End of his life? Other than his physical disability, he looked like a man in his early 80's and certainly pretty with it. Apparently my age gauge was a tad off, though. Jack informed me he was 90!
He was born in northern New Jersey and was a member of the Greatest Generation fighting in World War II in an infantry unit. After the war, he worked at Goldman Sachs for 40 years before retiring. Oh yeah, and he attended Princeton for his college education.
We discussed issues facing our economy, the healthcare industry, our current presidential election process and candidates, the socio-political problems in the Middle East, and we prognosticated on possible outcomes for all.
Like many of our war veterans who experienced battle firsthand, he is a person who believes in seeking peace instead of stoking the sparks of war. Over the course of our conversation, he demonstrated an incredibly strong personality tempered by a deep sense of compassion and humility.
As our discussion came to an end and he got up to leave, he asked me one last question: did I know what formula to use for a certain spreadsheet calculation within the Excel computer program. Now, guess who felt like he was not as sharp mentally?
We shook hands and said our goodbyes, but before he left, I told Jack that while he may have difficulty walking, that he should never think for a moment that he's lost his mental edge. I also expressed my hope that he's able to appreciate the interesting life he has lived and the life he still has left to live. Jack smiled and agreed.
As Jack was walking away, I asked him to please stop by to say hi anytime he sees me working in the courtyard. I'm never too busy to have a good talk with a good guy.
My lesson learned: if you are open to it, life can present you with gifts in unexpected ways. Jack gave me the gift of human connection, which is what life is all about. In fact, according to research, human connection is arguably one of the most important contributors to attaining personal happiness.
Tonight, when I am writing in my journal I know my first entry will be... I am grateful today for meeting a gentleman named Jack!
Help yourself. Help others.