I was at a coffee shop the other day feeling like I wanted to just skip the coffee and fall asleep on the luscious looking leather couch. I’d worked one hundred and twelve hours of overtime on top of my regular ten hour work days for two weeks straight trying to catch a murder suspect. The guy was slippery as baby oil and had eluded us over and over. I was feeling sick and clearly not looking forward to yet another meeting in ten minutes. To top it off, I knew after the meeting I’d be asked to head out again with my team and keep trying to catch the bad guy. The thing really bothering me was that the dude was causing me to miss time with my family. I was down in the dumps and miserable.
I decided to abandon the couch and I ordered a large coffee with quad espresso shots. If I had to suffer, everyone else would too. With that much caffeine, I was bound to create quite a disturbance. The nice lady made my drink and handed it to me. I slowly sauntered over to the sugar and cream table fighting the whole darn thing. I ran out of half and half and thought, Geez, can it get any worse?
I turned to march over to the counter and demand more half and half and bumped into a man. I was about to tell the guy it would have been nice of him to say excuse me, but he beat me to it.
He said, “I’m so sorry young man. I guess the chemotherapy has made it tough for me to get around like I used to.”
I instantly melted and felt like such a ham. I couldn’t even respond. Anyone who knows me knows that getting me to stop talking is rare.
I noticed the man was disheveled and bald. He seemed slightly disoriented and genuinely concerned with MY well being.
He said to me kindly, “You okay son, I’m really sorry.”
I snapped out of the whole feeling-sorry-for-myself thing I was in and responded, “Sir, I should have been more careful. I’m the one who is sorry. Is there anything I can do to help you?”
“Sure, get me some half and half. I’d appreciate that,” he replied.
The brief walk from the sugar table to the front counter gave me time to reflect how terrible I was acting and how I had no idea how lucky I was. I couldn’t believe I was complaining about being tired when there were people like the man I had just met going through much more difficult times.
I got some half and half for the man and walked back over to him. I offered to pour it for him and he said sure. I noticed he was carrying a book in his hands, written by Tony Hillerman, and commented on it.
Before I knew it, I was sitting and talking with a complete stranger. I learned his name was Jim and he was one of nine children. He had colon cancer and was beating it. Jim had finished his chemotherapy and because of it, he had an amazing spin on life. Live life to its fullest, that’s all he wanted to do. I sat and talked to him before my two cell phones began buzzing wildly alerting me to the fact that I was probably late for the briefing. I thanked him for taking the time to talk to me and for teaching me more about life in fifteen minutes than I had learned in the last thirty seven years.
I made it to the briefing and I had a smile on my face and a little pep in my step. Everyone thought I had totally lost it. I thought more clearly because Jim had centered me again. My team and I headed out and seventeen hours later, we placed handcuffs on a really bad guy, someone who had lost his way in life and need someone like Jim. And you know what? We owed this one to Jim. It’s amazing what we can learn from complete strangers. I wonder what would happen if more of us just took the time to talk to one another….