"I saw this elderly gentleman dining by himself, with an old picture of a lady in front of him. I though maybe I could brighten his day by talking to him.
As I had assumed, she was his wife. But I didn’t expect such an interesting story. They met when they were both 17. They dated briefly, then lost contact when he went to war and her family moved. But he said he thought about her the entire war. After his return, he decided to look for her. He searched for her for 10 years and never dated anyone. People told him he was crazy, to which he replied “I am. Crazy in love”. On a trip to California, he went to a barber shop. He told the barber how he had been searching for a girl for ten years. The barber went to his phone and called his daughter in. It was her! She had also been searching for him and never dated either.
He proposed immediately and they were married for 55 years before her death 5 years ago. He still celebrates her birthday and their anniversary. He takes her picture with him everywhere and kisses her goodnight.
Some inspiring things he said;
"I was a very rich man. Not with money, but with love"
"I never had a single argument with my wife, but we had lots of debates"
"People are like candles. At any moment a breeze can blow it out, so enjoy the light while you have it."
"Tell your wife that you love her everyday. And be sure to ask her, have I told you that I love you lately?"
Be sure to talk to the elderly. Especially strangers. You may think that you will brighten their day, but you may be surprised that they can actually brighten yours.”
Where you are from is not always where you belong.
In the fall of 1973 I was studying as a freshman at NYU, and after failing to make my initial train home to Maine, I was rushing through Grand Central on the evening before Thanksgiving 1973 when I spotted you, emerging from one of the railways, with a look of utter confusion on your face. You had the blondest hair I had ever seen, and a plaid dress. I had never seen a plaid dress before.
I was, in those days, terribly shy, and if I am honest with myself, I’ve never shook that stubborn sense of timidity or loneliness in crowds. To this day, trying to explain the uncharacteristic courageousness that seized me in that moment, and inspired me to walk up to you and say “are you lost?” is almost completely beyond me.
You were studying at Olberlin, and on your way to spend Thanksgiving with your aunt in Jersey City. After explaining to you where you could get a bus, I asked, in spite of knowing it would mean sacrificing my last chance to spend the holiday with my family (and likely infuriate my over-protective mother), if you wanted to get a drink and you said yes.
We walked out into a rainy Manhattan street and ducked into the first (cheap) bar we saw, where I ordered us two bottles of beer. Now in my 50’s, when with any luck a man might finally begin to acquire that elusive thing called wisdom, I know that there is nothing more exciting yet rare in life than making a true connection with someone. I have always been too sentimental for my own good, but in all honesty, I have never felt more at ease with anyone than I did laughing and talking to you that dimly lit midtown bar.
When I confessed that I purposefully missed my train to keep talking to you, you smiled slyly and said “well I guess it’s only fair that I miss my bus.” With no money for a cab, we walked to my Lower East Side dorm room, which was deserted aside from my German classmate Franklin, who kindly gave us a half-finished bottle of red wine.
We made love that night, and in the morning coached one another through shaky phone calls to our angry relatives back home. With the November cold turning the night’s rain into a dreary wintery mix, we stayed in bed all day, sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes, discussing politics and philosophy. You told me you had never felt “so New York before.”
That evening, you took a bus to Jersey City. A few weeks later I received a letter from California. You sent no return address, and I never saw you again.
I have been married twice since then - once divorced, and once widowed. I have had a successful career as an English professor, and am a proud father. My life has known its share of triumphs and heartaches, of love and loss. Against my better judgement, I haven’t forgotten that day - and, at least once a year, while mowing the lawn, or reading a newspaper, the details come back to me.
Perhaps, if life’s strange circumstances can permit it, we can have a second drink.