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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Lesson from a Happy Old Man



Having just celebrated my 24th birthday, I’m amazed that I’ve made it this far. It exhausts me to even think about another 50+ years of life ahead of me, but don’t get me wrong, I’m excited to see what it holds for me. It is far too easy to get caught up on the things that make us frown and let the simpler things fall by the wayside. Who has broken your heart, what bills need to be paid, how long your current to-do list is… in retrospect, none of that really matters in the long term. Emotions are fleeting, money will come and go and the to-do list will never, ever be a complete to-done list.
There is an elderly man that resides at the Christian Care Center in the town over that has found his way to my heart. Always dressed in an orange overcoat, a green cap, glasses and toting a plastic shopping bag, he stands on the lawn of the care center, watching the cars drive by on the main street, waving at those that take notice of his presence. He has become somewhat of a fixture on the side of that busy road. As long as the sun is shining and the ground is walkable, people have grown used to looking for this simple, yet somewhat odd man. He seems to have come to know certain faces and recognize familiar cars, as he usually appears during peak rush hour times. It is not uncommon for passersby to rap a quaint honk of the horn and give a friendly wave as they roll by.
The simple joy that this man exudes inspires me. All feelings of road rage dissipate once I see him wagging his wrist and greeting all cars that drive past, as if he were a Disney princess on a stagnant float. I wanted to know his secret to happiness. What kept him smiling after all the decades he’s endured?
On a particularly beautiful afternoon, I parked my car, gave the man a hug, and thanked him for always bringing a little light to my day. Through his thick spectacles, he smiled and shared a bit of his soul with me. From his plastic shopping bag, he pulled out two Peanuts’ desk calendars and proceeded to recite the short cartoons aloud, like a story. He explained that every day, he visited his girlfriends in the care center and shared a laugh with them at the humorous quips of the day. He placed the calendars back in to his plastic shopping bag, gave me one more hug and sent me on my way, my heart a bit lighter than it had been.
No doubt, this man has suffered the same hardships of life that everyone must face now and again. Being human, I’m certain he’s experienced anger, sadness, frustration and rage at one point in his life or another. But, despite all the challenges he inevitably conquered in his life, he has managed not to lose his smile. It may be possible that this man might have a few loose screws in his old age (heck, I know I already do!), but his happiness is nevertheless sincere. He shares this sage wisdom as he stands cheerfully waving on the side of the road, charmingly spreading a bit of joy to everyone that passes by.

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