I met a man in New Jersey. Aging, ricketty and without some of the front row of teeth, he still had the energy and enthusiasm of a four year old. He saw a micro tape recorder in my hand and seized it as an excuse to begin a conversation, offering me a pair of headphones. I told him the midget wasn’t for music. I use it to record interviews. He offered me a Thesaurus. And the Holy Bible. Just $3. I told him I had both in my library. What he really needed was bus fare to downtown Newark, from where he would be moving on to New York… Okay, we all get these pitches…
His fellow African Americans stared at me, obviously wondering why I humored this dillapidated man with my time and attention. Really, what compelled me to listen where the wrinkles that crawled like painted snakes behind the greying beard. I sensed Time, Experience, some strange kind of journey, some strange kind of wisdom. You and I still appreciate the value of age. Besides, there is something to be taken away from every encounter, if you open up to receive it.
I opened up.
Jumping to his feet, he asked what part of the world I came from. Nigeria, I said. Ah, he once had a “Robbie” friend and boss from Nigeria. That was back in the ’70s. This “Robbie” friend had “lines” on his face. I concluded he meant a “yoruba” man. He said he was a teacher who had seen the land… Somehow, age had caught up with him and holding a job down had become difficult. He never liked being tied down anyhow. That’s why he never married.
Ask a man a question and you have honored him with the greatest compliment. I did. He quoted copiously from the Scriptures. He waxed wisdom from ancient myths, South African, West African… He even talked dirty a little, but he wouldn’t use swear words. None of that for him. He talked and gyrated and gesticulated and walked. He looked like a man who had been ignored by the world for too long and now had to seize this one opportunity to empty his mind!
He made me laugh, that old man… He made me laugh with him, at him, at myself, at the world! That elderly man in the space of a mistaken minute made me think America ought to pause a little more often to listen to its old. Not that the leadership in my own country listens to anything but corruption… (Hey, ignore the digression!).
It is incredible how much beauty and joy we skip in our race through life. An occasional crawl, even a deliberate wrong turn could lead to adventure, new insights… Like the bit of borrowed wisdom that elderly man planted in my soul even as he stepped onto the NJ Transit bus…
“Which is the largest room in the world?”
Don’t know. Amazon.com’s warehouse?
“ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT!”
Yeah, you can always get better, do more, fly higher, reach farther… You just have to believe you can. You just have to want to hard enough.