So, who was the rough-looking guy, sitting alone on the veranda of the Raglan Pub? And what was it about him that caused me to notice him?
If you think you may have heard this story before, you could be right. (An earlier version of this post first appeared in my personal blog – My Internal Journey at www.leighjohnsonnz.com, where I share my experience with depression and anxiety.)
I wanted to tell it again today as it’s one of the events that taught me how to love life over 50.
Why? Because I relearned something that I thought I already knew. Together, let’s explore what can happen when we stop judging others and start being genuinely interested.
The highlight of our road trip
Dressed in steel-capped work boots, wrap-around sunglasses and a weathered broad-brimmed hat, he was an interesting contrast to the young, foreign travelers seated at the other tables.
This casual observation occurred when we visited the town of Raglan, home to some of New Zealand’s best surfing locations. It was at the northern most point our own two week road trip that we encountered this stranger.
Soon after we parked our caravan, we set off to explore this charming town. It was late afternoon and there was time for a quick look around before finding a drink and a meal.
Having completed some gift shopping, I was ready for a cold beer. The Raglan Hotel seemed like the perfect place to quench my thirst and enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.
Upon our arrival, I immediately was drawn again to the man with the broad-brimmed hat and dark glasses who was still sitting alone. I then realized he was occupying the only table with seats to spare. It was in that moment I did something typically not in my nature; I asked if we could join him.
Not letting my anxiety or nerves get in the way…
Often times, it’s my anxiety or nerves that put me off from approaching a stranger in this way. But that day, my curiosity got the better of me. I was intrigued to learn more about him.
He seemed agreeable to us joining his table; although, his next comment: “as long as you don’t say stuff I won’t understand” took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure at the time what he meant by that comment; but please bear with me as my explanation will come a bit later.
Over the next hour we chatted about local issues, travel, life and politics. Initially, he was happy to answer any questions I asked of him; and yet, his responses were very quiet. I also noticed how he barely opened his lips when speaking.
I could tell he was holding back; but as the conversation continued, he appeared to become more comfortable with us as his shyness seemed to diminish. However, it was evident he had no intention of removing the wrap-around sunglasses that rested on the nose of his suntanned, craggy face. Of course, that meant any eye contact would be next to impossible.
This situation generally makes me feel uncomfortable; and yet, oddly enough, it didn’t bother me this time. Perhaps, it was because I was more intent on listening to what this stranger had to say.
Over the next hour we discovered that this man was born in the area and still lived on a farm not far from Raglan. He grew up catching waves on the surf and spent most of his life in the area working as a builder. He joked about going through a midlife crisis. As a result, he’d recently changed his job with the hope of more variety.
A few stories and a couple of beers later we said goodbye, knowing it would be highly unlikely that we would ever meet again.
I remember thinking that if we did ever meet again, I wouldn’t even recognise him as I had no real idea of what he looked like. As I said, the dark, wrap-around sunglasses hadn’t left his face during the entire time we sat and spoke with him.
Then suddenly and much to my surprise…
He removed the sunglasses to reveal his warm, intelligent, light-blue eyes. He stopped, paused and looked us in the eye before shaking our hands and saying a final goodbye.
This moment in time came back to me that evening when reading; Turning the Mind into an Ally by Buddhist author, Sakyong Mipham Ripoche. In one particular chapter he writes about generosity and the most precious gift we can offer – the gift of trusting others and showing our vulnerability.
The simple act of looking someone in the eye is a catalyst for removing our armor and letting them in.
It was then that I understood what had transpired in the moment the man at the pub removed his glasses. What had begun as a reluctant acceptance of our presence at his table had turned into trust and a desire to connect, as well as an opportunity to share himself with us.
But what about puzzling comment when we met?
What did he mean when he said, “don’t say things I won’t understand”? And for a second time that day, I had a revelation!
It was his subtle and polite way of saying,
“Don’t bullshit me. Don’t try to impress me with your city talk”.
To this day it still makes me chuckle. “Don’t say things I won’t understand”. I often wonder if I will use this line the next time someone tries to impress me with elaborate words.
Lessons learned about intuition, trust and bullshit
The first lesson is, never be put off by someone’s appearance – because you just never know. We all put on protective armor; which can be worn a number of ways. For some it’s a corporate suit, for others can be a false smile, even a staunch attitude.
Secondly, don’t talk bullshit. It won’t help you make friends.
So start trusting your intuition! It will help you not only stop making judgements, it will enable you ‘put yourself out there’.
Even if at first you feel vulnerable, the benefits are worth the risk. You’ll soon discover that taking a leap of faith, or ‘stepping out of your comfort zone’ can not only be empowering, it can lead to endless possibilities that enrich every aspect of your life.
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