A Conversation With a Stranger


A Conversation with a Stranger.

I was browsing for a new book during a recent visit to Barnes and Noble, but I left the store with more than a good read.  I was lucky enough to have a memorable encounter as well.

I was searching the store computer for a specific title when an elderly man came to my side and began a conversation.  He was holding a large laminated map of South America.

“Here is where I was born, and here is where I grew up,” He said and smiled, pointing to two locations in Brazil.  His few remaining teeth were long and brown, but his smile was engaging.

My first impulse was to make my excuses-I’ve got to go, I’m in a rush, I’ve only got a minute, etc. etc.  –and extricate myself from conversation with the friendly man.  Instead, knowing full well that I had no place more important to be, I decided to engage with the solitary stranger.  I sensed that I was being offered an opportunity to give something to him just by listening, and to learn something in the process.

This man had so much to tell me; where he was born, who was in his family, the family profession, and more.  Tears came to his eyes as he described his mother: “If she had lived four months, 3 weeks, 2 days and 6 hours longer she would have been alive during three centuries because she was born in 1899 and she died at 101.” He was impressively precise about family data.

Several times my new acquaintance made the point that everyone who came before him is now dead and that he is the next one to go.  But he also reassured me that this was O.K. with him.  “It’s just life,” he said.

After chatting a while I thanked my friend for sharing a bit of his life story. I shook his hand, wished him well and left the store. I wondered how long he would remember having talked with me, or if he would immediately go up to another benign stranger and start the tale again.  That didn’t matter.  It had clearly given him pleasure to talk about his long and colorful life, and especially to remember his loved ones.

This is what has stuck with me since my encounter with a friendly, foreign, slightly addled stranger:  Nearing the end of one’s life, even if the ability to think has in some or many ways dimmed, one is left most clearly with memories of family.  The memories may be positive or negative, but they seem more firmly embedded in the psyche than anything else.

If the experiences within one’s family create such an indelible impact, doesn’t it make sense to put effort into maximizing the quality of those experience?

Who are the people you will be thinking about at the end of your life?  What kind of memories are you making?

An important message from a conversation with a stranger.

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