All about Al, my favorite stranger

Written December 9 , 2016

Life sends us the most amazing teachers. I met two of them recently.
The first was a gentle soul I will call “Al”. I met Al while we were both sitting in a medical waiting room. Al had gotten up to get a cup of water. I was sitting a couple of chairs away from the cooler so he politely asked me if I’d like a drink as well. I accepted. Al’s crippled body, hunched back and disheveled appearance suggested his life was not an easy one. He carefully brought me my cup of water, sat next to me and we proceeded to have an amazing – beautiful really- conversation.
What I learnt about Al is that he has a chronic illness that has left him severely crippled and in pain most of the time and for most of his life. He also suffers with partial facial paralysis making it difficult for him to speak, but he managed just fine. Al’s wife “Beth”passed away from breast cancer 18 months ago, they had been married for 23 years. He left his job as an IT manager to take care of Beth, but due to his medical condition he is having a difficult time re-entering the workplace so is doing what he referred to as “geek” work helping people with their home computer systems. Although he qualified for long term disability, he indicated that he prefers to work as it keeps him active and allows him to get out and socialize. Al and Beth had one child, a little girl named Emily who passed away 17 years ago at the age of two. He had a picture of Emily and Beth safely tucked in his wallet and was beaming with pride and love as he showed me the photo. Despite his life challenges, this man was positive and upbeat. He was grateful that he had access to care that helped him mange his pain, he had lovely stories of his life with the love of his life, Beth. Although some might say he had a lot of reasons to be angry with the world, not a negative or angry word came out of him. He was interested in who I was and asked me about my line of work and my life. It was a beautiful and peaceful pleasure to meet him and be in his company. I felt the positive energy flowing from every fibre of his being.

The second teacher I engaged with this week, is a woman I will call “Mona”. I have known her casually for a few years. We bump into each other occasionally at business functions. Mona is beautiful, has a wonderful job, makes an excellent salary, lives in a beautiful home with her handsome husband (who also has a successful career) and their three children all of whom are attractive, healthy and thriving in school and athletics. Yet, she is one of the most unhappy people I have ever met. This week, she was angry because she was unable to book a 4 bedroom condo for their trip to Hawaii at New Years and had to settle for 3 bedroom. She was angry because the dealership winterizing her car made her wait 30 mins before they could drive her back to work. She was mad at her husband because she had to attend a workplace event with him and she hates “everyone” he works with. She was upset with her various family members over Christmas dinner arrangements, negative about people in her workplace and upset that managers in her pay-grade were asked to each contribute $100 to provide the staff in the office with a Christmas luncheon. Any time I have spent time with her, I can feel her negative vibration and find it hard to be in her company. I don’t recall her ever asking me about my life, my job or my family because I’m pretty sure she doesn’t care. 🙂

So what did I learn from these two amazing teachers that presented themselves to me only a couple of days apart?
I learnt this.
– Our perceptions are our reality. If we believe our lives suck, or we believe our lives are wonderful- we’re right.
– Gratitude and happiness are intrinsically connected. People that are authentically grateful are generally happy people.
– It’s not a beautiful face or a beautiful house or a beautiful job that makes us beautiful, it’s a beautiful spirit and the impact it has on others that makes us beautiful “or not”
– Although our mothers told us we should never talk to strangers, sorry momma, I have to disagree, I love talking to strangers (my Dad use to start up conversations with random strangers all of the time- I guess I  get this from him).

We have to stop pretending we don’t see one another and instead take time to say hello, reach out with open hearts and compassion, because you never know who you’re going to meet and what amazing gifts of learning they might be packing with them.
Actually, when you think about it, everyone you know, including your very best friends, the person you’re in love with, even your mother, use to be a stranger. 🙂 so don’t be afraid to reach out.

I’m feeling grateful for the lessons, the learning and the whisper of time that I was gifted to spend with a beautiful, wise, kindly, soul that use to be a stranger – named “Al”.

TO’K ~ 🌹❤️

Toni O’Keeffe ~ The Whimsey Angel

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