I met a man today...

I was walking back to my car from dinner tonight, just strolling along and enjoying the crisp, cold evening and chatting with my wife about errands to run, plans to make, and pets to get home to. The night wasn't exceptional in any meaningful way. As we stood on the sidewalk about to part ways - we had driven there separately - a man walked by.

I told my wife I would see her at home and I caught up to him. He was strolling slowly so this wasn't difficult. I asked if he wanted to grab a bite to eat at the fast food joint a couple doors down; he agreed and we set off.

The conversation started slowly, it was a little difficult to understand him. He apologized if it was difficult to make out his words, he had had a stroke you see. It affected his speech, but he would try to repeat something if I couldn't understand him. It was in 1995 - June 26th he recalled. He marveled at the fact that it had almost been 20 years. There had been other problems as well; he mentioned that some time ago he had also been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and manic depression. I commented about how that seems more and more common these days, I knew someone afflicted by the same condition.

We saddled up to the counter, my new acquaintance and I, but barely broke stride in our conversation. We barely stopped long enough for the clerk to take our order. He asked for some coffee, a burger and fries. I had eaten already, but I stole a couple of the fries anyway. A bit of the coffee spilt on the way to a table. He immediately grabbed some napkins and dried up every last bit. "That's how I broke this arm," he stated cautiously, pointing to his left elbow, "slipped on a wet floor in a place like this."

We chatted about all manner of things - family, religion, mental illness, prison. It was a good conversation, but it was also late and I needed to get home before the wife thought I had gotten lost. He was surprised when I told him how long I had been married. When he was 20 - the age at which I got married - he wasn't even sure what he was going to do with his life.

His father was a doctor - if a little... misguided - and so were some other members of his extended family. He didn't talk to the family much. Both mother and father had passed away some years ago. He recalled when he was 18 and he told his father he wanted to be a priest - dad didn't really care for that idea. He had tried to leave home at only 15, he dismissed my comments that most teenagers go through this phase, saying that his dad was a little crazy. Aren't they all...

After another ten minutes or so I finally stood up and we said our goodbyes. I realized we hadn't even exchanged names yet. I introduced myself and he said his name was James Kevin. It was a good conversation. I hope he finds somewhere warm to sleep tonight.

I am unfathomably grateful for the life I am able to live today. I am grateful for all of the people who helped make this possible. And I hope that I find the courage to share this good fortune with many more good people like James.

Published on November 26, 2013