He knew I was there, watching him, studying him, but if he cared he didn’t show it. He just sat there. Eventually lighting a cigarette. Eventually putting it out. He said nothing. He didn’t move much. At one point, he smiled. But it gently faded after a few minutes. Every now and again, he would close his eyes.
After about twenty minutes, I walked over to him and asked, “Excuse me, but could I ask you a few questions?”
“You have already asked me one,” he said, as a quirky half smile appeared.
I liked him. “How old are you?” was my first, I mean my second question.
“I am 87,” he said. “Is that important?”
“Not so much important as curious to me,” I said. “I don’t mean to offend you, but you seem both ancient and young at the same time, and I was just curious.”
“Why would that offend me?” he asked. “To the very young I am very old. It is merely an observation. To the very old, youth is a state of mind as much as it is forgivable behavior.”
“You knew I was watching you but it didn’t seem to bother you,” I said.
“You watching me had nothing to do with me and everything to do with you,” he said. “If a thousand people watch the sun rise, will the sun be bothered? Or do anything different merely because it is being watched? To the observed it is nothing. It is the observer that can be changed.”
“Why do you smoke cigarettes?” I asked.
“Because I enjoy it,” he said simply.
“But what about your health? Aren’t you worried about the damage smoking can do to you?”
“I have been smoking one cigarette each day for 76 years,” he said. “I am not worried.”
“Do you have any family?”
“I did. But I am the last.”
“Why are you sorry?”, he asked. “Is death not a part of life? To be first or last is not important. To be, that is what matters.”
“Indeed. To be. That is what matters.”
We talked a little more. And it seemed with every answer he gave, I grew a little wiser. There was a part of me that wished I would have met him earlier in life. But as I thought more about it, I realized that neither of us would have had the questions and answers that we had today. Besides, he probably would have said something about wishes not giving meaning to life.
I said my last “Thank you” to him and began to walk away.
I heard, “Remember me.”
I stopped, and slowly turned around to say, “I will.”
But he was gone.
In this age, we too often look for answers in the esoteric or the exotic. We track the latest trends. We gush over the newest guru. We pander to that which we like and slander that which we don’t.
But today I learned five lessons from an ancient young man who had no vested interest in the outcome of our time together. In his honor, I pass them along.
Enjoy what you do.