The simple gift of listening…

older hands

I so enjoy life’s moments that just “happen” upon my day.  This moment took place in the waiting room of a dentist office.  In the other room, my son was receiving his first row of braces.  I was making use of my time by checking email, sending text messages, checking in on Facebook, and viewing recent Instagram pictures.  Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the ability to make use of time to take care of details so that when I return home, I don’t have extra “details” on my plate when real family await time together, but I often wonder if I’m missing out while “looking down”.

This moment happened as I was engrossed in my device.  Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a couple walk in.  They were small in stature, they moved very gingerly and intently, they had stooped shoulders, and their clothes hung from frail shoulders.  And they were holding hands.  And he helped her with her sweater.  And he kissed her goodbye as the dentist offered his elbow to lead her to the thrown where he would fix her broken tooth.  And they had a story, I just knew it.  And before I could open my mouth, he began to speak.  And I had a front row seat.

I learned that he was 90 1/2 years old, 5 years older than his young bride, and that they just celebrated their 65 wedding anniversary a bit early because they were married on THANKSgiving day (he emphasized the “thank” part), and on their 60th an ice storm hit and many invitees were unable to attend.  He didn’t want to chance that again.  “I have a wonderful wife”, he told me at least 3 times.  “Many people don’t seem to make it as long as we have now-a-days.  We’re lucky.”

I learned that  he served in 39 battles during World War II (along with his 3 brothers), “which about killed his mother who died at an early age of 58.”  His father was a carpenter by trade, and scrapped together what he could to feed 4 teenage boys.  His good grades earned him a position in attend a “free” college in New York City where he graduated and taught high school for a year and a half.  Then he was offered a job as a college professor in a small town in West Virginia (600 people in the entire town), and they decided to try it out.  61 years later, 2 grown daughters, and a career he was extremely proud of have been a part of, they finally agreed to move closer to their daughter here in Columbus (It was a better option that the daughter in Michigan because of the weather 🙂

I learned that his first teaching job paid $2,460 per year.  He was a CPA.  He could have made lots of money, he was offered jobs at UCLA and WVU.  He turned them down.  He loved his community, his small town (where people waved to you before they saw you because they knew your car), and he loved his students.  He told me that barely 50% of students that take the exam ever pass, with his students, a little over 85% of them passed (I bet he knew the exact percentage.)  He cared about them, he knew them well, he was passionate about his career, and he was humble.  He’s received one award that is worth talking about, his students (former and current) voted, from all over the state of WV, and he won for the top CPA professor in the state. “I was given $1000, and that was a lot.” And his eyes teared.  And so did mine.

He would pause every so often.  And I would ask another question.  And he would go on.  He stopped teaching at age 58.  He thought about his wife.  He wanted to provide “more than a shoebox for her to live in”.  He finally took a job as a CPA before retiring 6 years later.  He earned enough.  He’s thankful.  He doesn’t need glasses, nor hearing aides.  He takes zero pills for his health.  He had no answer for that other than, his milk man took very good care of him.

“I’ve experienced a lot in my life.  Next to my wife, my daughters, and my students, I don’t need much.”

And he leaned forward ever so slightly, and he grabbed a magazine as I said my goodbyes.  And I forgot to ask him his name.

He looked like a John to me.  If I ever have the opportunity to give this man some words, this is what I would say:

Dear John,

Your life is an example to me.  I only met you for 30 minutes today, and I know you love well, you love deeply, and you carry joy.  Thank you.  Thank you for loving your wife.  Thanking you for showing me that beyond the number of years, all the little things matter.  Thank you for using honoring words in talking about those in your life.  Thank you for being an example that relationship matter over monetary.  Providing for your family means that “just enough” is more than enough.  Thank  you for sharing your life with me, just a strange lady in a dentist waiting room.  Thank you for giving me hope through your example of enduring love.  I can see Aaron caring for me in this way, but I don’t often picture this in my independent ways.  I thank you for helping me to see the value that comes from listening.  For time time for people, not always being rushed by the activities of life.  Thank you for sharing.  It was the greatest gift I received today.  God Bless!

Psalm 119:90

Your faithfulness continues through all generations; you established the earth, and it endures.
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