This I Believe
In 2002 I was visiting a small town in Croatia, called Dubrovnik. My friends and I were getting ready to enter a restaurant, when a very old man, wearing a bowtie and walking with a cane, stopped us and asked if we were Americans. When I confirmed his suspicions, he shook our hands vigorously, overwhelmed with excitement. He came in and had coffee with us, talking about how much he loved meeting and talking with Americans. The more we talked, the more interesting his story became.
This mysterious old man with a strong accent was Slovenian, and had worked as a spy for the US during World War II. He elaborated with such detail, the stories that formed him during his younger years. He shared that during his service to the US, there was suspicion that he could be smuggling information to the Soviets. He was imprisoned in the US for several years, until his name was cleared. I couldn’t understand why this loving little man was so excited to talk with us (Americans) after being falsely imprisoned by the US? He explained that he had no hard feelings for Americans; in fact he felt our optimism and spirit were invigorating.
Our conversation continued for hours. I felt like I had found a precious piece of history, and wanted to soak-up as much as possible. As locals came into the restaurant, many of them came over to hug and converse with my mysterious man. This also made my mind spin. Slovenia and Croatia were healing from a very recent war, and the prejudice, angry emotions were so strongly felt everywhere you went. How could this Slovenian even be allowed by the Croatians to live in their country, let alone be received with such open arms? When I began asking these questions, he simply stated that he loved Croatians, and they knew this. There had been many terrible things that had happened in both of their countries, but that didn’t change the fact that people are people. He loved people, not for what nationality they were, but for who they were.
I sat there in that little restaurant, in a town that I would have never guessed I would ever even know about, wondering how I became so lucky to be taught such a valuable life lesson. This man could have been angry about being falsely imprisoned by the same country he risked his life for…but he wasn’t. He could have talked about the many terrible war stories that took place in Slovenia, and been angry…but he wasn’t. He loved and accepted a group of young Americans, hugging each of us passionately before he left. He loved and accepted his Croatian neighbors, and received the same acceptance in return.
I saw my little bowtie wearing, old man walking the small cobblestone streets from time to time during the next few days. Every time I saw him, he waved passionately at us and continued. He was the most content, happy old person I had ever met, and I think I discovered the source of his joy. Loving and accepting people for who they are, leads to a happy and fulfilling life…This I now believed.
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