June 26th 2008 marked the day I learned one of the most valuable life lessons I deemed impossible. Above all, a complete stranger taught it to me. I believe that every conversation is the beginning of a new opportunity. Whether it is a casual or striking conversation, I’ve learned a message can be taught at anytime, anywhere, and from anyone.
I sat on the far left side of a wooden bench at the D Street beach in Encinitas, California waiting for a friend. Sitting on the opposite end of me seemed to be a homeless man mumbling to himself as he enjoyed the ocean breeze from the top of the cliff. The stranger turned to me and shared a simple smile; I smiled back thinking nothing of the gesture. After a few minutes passed the man turned back to me and said “thank you.” Puzzled and confused, I asked him why he was thanking me. He muttered, “You’re the first person out of six to acknowledge me.”
I was baffled from what I just heard the homeless man say to me, and I didn’t understand how returning a simple gesture could have such an impact on a person’s life. I pondered for a moment about what just happened, and I sparked conversation with him again. I merely asked the man how his day was going. He explained to me his day was surrounded by ignorant citizens. I didn’t know how to respond. We exchanged a bewildered facial expression to one another, and after a minute of awkward silence, he finally replied, “I’m not important enough and have nothing to offer you.” Thoughts raced through my mind. (Deleted a few sentences here.)
I felt the warm saltwater breeze across my face as I stared into the endless ocean. I just sat and thought about what the itinerant man had just said to me. I understood literally what he said, but I didn’t think that someone would actually say it. He truly believed that an average citizen thought too highly of his or her self to acknowledge his existence.
While I was waiting for my friends’ arrival, I realized I sat on the opposite end of the wooden bench to avoid him; I should be labeled under the same category as the other six people. I choose to sit where I thought I could ignore him, and he wouldn’t react to my being. When I first sat down on the bench, I disregarded the idea this indiscriminate man had something valuable to offer me. By taking my time to hold a simple conversation with him for five minutes, it turned into a discussion filled with lessons.
Once my friend finally arrived, I waved goodbye to the stranger whom I now felt a connection to. My friend and I walked down the stone steps toward the warm salty sand. I wondered if he would ever know the values he just taught me by taking his time to converse with me. This conversation gave me the ability to grow honorably in my daily lifestyle. I learned to respect everyone for who they are. I learned the value of attaining every piece of information I am capable of. I learned the kindness of a simple smile. And above all, I learned to appreciate the lessons I’m able to learn everyday.
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