By Adam J. Pearson
Today, after I got off my bus, I saw an old man and his wife, both of them with walking sticks. They were carrying heavy bags and looked like they were struggling. I asked them if they lived nearby and if they would like me to carry their bags to their apartment. They said they would love that if it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience to me. I said that it would be a pleasure to help.
As we walked to their house, we talked about my current teaching experience and my plans for the future, such as potentially attending culinary school. They talked about their life and friends they know who have done similar things. As we arrived at their apartment, I found a quaintly decorated home. Dave, the husband, was quite proud of his recently-acquired Patrick Roy Montreal Canadiens goalie jersey. It is valuable not only for its rarity and high monetary worth, but for the history behind it, which links back to one of the Canadiens’ greatest goalies of all time.
Dave was a wonderfully affable and kindly man. I had seen him greet everyone who came into his apartment building and attempt to have a short conversation with them. “I’m just friendly,” he told me, “it’s in my nature.” I thought to myself that this friendly openness with people was something I had been cultivating in my life lately, largely due to the requirements of the teaching profession, which involves constant social interactions with students, parents, fellow teachers, administrators, librarians, and other people. On the bus before I ran into Dave and Lena, I had had a nice chat with a grade 9 student from the school at which I was teaching. He was very respectful and seemed quite mature for his age. The theme of friendly openness was fresh in my mind today and Dave helped reinforce its importance.
Dave had the quirky affectation of many elderly men that causes them to multiply a single story into countless others. He felt he needed to provide me background information on every detail he brought up and then background on the background, like the narrator in Tristram Shandy. His conversation sounded something like this: “I bought this wicker shelving unit at the local Village of Values for 10 dollars, would you believe it? When I bought it, I ran into Margaret. I’ve known her for years. Her husband is actually a second-cousin of mine. He owns several cars: a Chevrolet, a Toyota and a Ford. He got the Chevrolet back in 1996. It was a really great deal. That was back when they were living on Springfield. Margaret was working as a nurse at the time with my friend Bob. Bob now works at Super Macardo, the flea market. Before Macardo, he had a kiosque in Montreal, but the rent was really high and he wasn’t making much money. That was in the Eaton center…” It would go on and on in this way. It was hard to keep track of the original story thread that had brought him to this point, but I tried to be patient and polite.
Dave asked me if I liked to see old cars and I said I did so he brought me down to the storage garage of the building, where a number of tenants had stored sleek, valuable cars such as Mustangs and BMWs. One tenant had even installed a wooden and metal cage to enclose his vehicle and prevent anyone from touching it. The lengths people go to to preserve fleeting material goods, I thought. But if I had invested that much money in a vehicle, I’d probably feel the same way.
Before leaving, I stood in the doorway of the building with Dave and talked to him for about 30 minutes. He told me about his first marriage, to a woman who was spoiled, unreliable, and abusive. Dave would work hard every day and then go home to find she had done no house work. As a result, he would do all of the cooking, cleaning, vacuuming, and other household tasks. His wife called him “stupid,” “idiot,” and other nasty names. Though she did none of the vacuuming, she would insist that he purchase new vacuum models for the house as well as various other things she had seen on the home shopping channel. Beyond that, she even went so far as to have sex with another man and cheat on Dave. Eventually, he couldn’t take it anymore. He moved out and filed for divorce.
He met Lena some years later. Lena had been in an abusive relationship with a man who sung at Church and made every show of piety on Sunday. When he left the Church, however, he would yell obscenities at Lena, threaten to beat her if she didn’t get in the car fast enough, and menace her with various cruelties. He even went so far as grabbing Lena by the throat in front of their daughter, Melissa, and declaring that he would kill her on the spot. It was a damaging relationship, but 6 times, Lena tried to make it work anyway. At last, she, too, could no longer take it and moved out and filed for divorce, just like Dave had.
It was Lena who asked Dave out. He was a gentleman. He told her: “I know you have been hurt, so I won’t answer right away.” A day later, he came back and said: “if you would still like to, I’d love to go out. We’ll see how we feel and how things go and go from there.” They started seeing each other more and married a few years later. They got married when Dave was 60 years old and have been married for 8 years so far. “Lena drives me crazy sometimes and gives me a hard time, but I love her. I go out of my way to do nice things for her and I don’t intend to leave her. She knows I care about her.” Their relationship was touching and inspirational to me; it showed me that a successful, loving relationship is still possible even into the years in which many people have cynically given up on love altogether.
“I’m a friendly guy to pretty much everybody except for two kinds of people,” Dave told me. “I hate men who beat women and men who hurt children. They are not men at all; they’re cowards, and if I saw them in the process of abusing their family member, I would break their legs with a stick and call the cops to explain what had happened. Women and children should be treated with respect; only men who treat them that way are really men.” I couldn’t agree more. Respect is paramount and when the health and safety of women and children are concerned, that is especially true.
My meeting with Dave and Lena was a chance encounter. We happened to be at the same bus stop at the same time and happened to connect. How often do we have opportunities like the one I had today and pass them by? We can learn so much from these small moments, these small chances to connect with another human being. We should value them and not let them slip away unobserved and unappreciated. If Dave and Lena taught me anything, it’s the value of keeping our eyes, hearts, and minds open. A wall allows no progress, but a doorway has the space to let new experiences and people in.