Today I met Dan.
As sweet as can be, he entered the bookstore in a tweed sport coat with an American flag pendant. He waved to me as though we knew each other. Being the awkward introvert that I am, I returned the smile, and slowly slumped into my chair not sure if I knew this person or not.
After ordering his coffee, Dan took a seat at the table directly behind me and inquired about my morning work. Question after question, he was intrigued to know what I was studying and who I am.
“Are you a teacher?”
“I’m actually a full-time student. I study people. I want to understand why we do the things that we do, why we say the things that we say. I want to help people. I guess that’s all I really know for sure at this point.”
As if something in me moved him to speak, Dan extended his hand to mine and opened up about caring for his ailing mother.
A retired veteran, Dan has been taking care of his mother for the past 11 years. His wife divorced him shortly after he began caring for his mother full-time, yet he spoke of his ex lovingly.
“I understand why she left. It was too much. I don’t blame her.”
Dan hasn’t been on a date since his divorce.
“I don’t mean to bother you,” he said. “I just don’t have anyone to talk to about my mom, and my brother doesn’t help much. He doesn’t help at all actually. He left her care to me.”
I sat and smiled, humbled and in awe of his vulnerability with a complete stranger. I allowed his pain to wash in me. Thank you, I said silently to myself.
“Dan, I’m so glad you can talk to me about it. What you’re doing is so wonderful and selfless, but remember to take of yourself first.”
He was outwardly silent for a time, and he encouraged me to return to my homework.
But I couldn’t focus on my work. I wanted to help Dan, but how?
I stood up to search the bookstore for The Book of Awakening and returned to Dan’s table within minutes, book in hand.
“Do you like to read? This book is beautiful. It has changed my life. The author is also a poet, and he stirs my soul to remember what is true. I think you might enjoy it. I take it everywhere I go. I have my copy in my bag, see? It gets me through the tough days when I feel like no one is here to listen.”
His eyes widened, “I love to read, thank you,” and I returned to my work as he fingered through the pages. After a short while, it was time for Dan to leave.
“Back to my chores,” he said. “I think I’ll take myself out to eat later today. That is my treat to myself. You know, gotta stay sane somehow.” (Pointing toward his head)
I chuckled, “Yes, I hear you! That sounds wonderful. Don’t forget those special moments for yourself. It was so nice to meet you, Dan.”
“Likewise, and thank you.”
I can’t help but wonder if I was as much help to Dan as he was to me? Dan entered the bookstore as I was writing a reflection paper on how many stay-at-home mothers (including myself) feel invisible. My sociology professor encourages us to write about the roles we play within our family units, and today I felt compelled to talk about my struggle with identity, a sense of purpose, and truthfully, my sense of self-worth.
And then like magic,
**Cue Dan, enter stage left, needing to speak his truth, asking for someone to please hear him, to please help ease the pain of living.
Thank you Dan, wherever you are now. I heard you. I felt your pain. I did the best I could to help you with the resources that I’ve been given. I’m still learning how best to help people, and truthfully all I offered to you was my time and a small place in my heart to hang your pain for the moment. I am humbled that you opened yourself to me. I hope that in sharing your truth, the struggle within you has softened a bit.
Your presence certainly softened my need to feel worthy and useful today.
Dan, I guess you could say I am a teacher. Perhaps I taught you a few things today. But I stick by what I said. I am most definitely a lifelong student. Thank you for being my teacher today.
For this lesson, I am grateful.