It was the 13th day of September, the year was 2007.
He looked like just another ordinary man who would walk into the store. An old man with white hair. I greeted him when he entered the store, but I could tell by his body language that he wasn’t interested in our products. I tried to start a conversation with him, like I normally do with most customers, asking him where he was from and what he was doing here. Through our conversation, I learned that this man had travelled through many countries. On his own, he has covered pretty much all of the globe. He said that having friends in all parts of the world has allowed him to travel the world extensively to visit them. I could tell from that one point alone that he was a very friendly and talkative person.
At 72 years of age, the man had experienced 20 heart attacks. He has had a quadruple bypass and, at one point, was told that he had only 9 hours remaining in his life. What this person has experienced is totally beyond me, and as I continued to listen I became more and more intrigued by his story. He explained that he received a degree in psychology before going into the medical field. Thus, he’s helped a lot of students deal with their problems. Despite his traumatic experiences, he lives his life with extreme optimism because he understands that, from the day he was told he only had 9 hours left to live, everyday has already been a bonus.
As he went on, talking about his experiences and his theories, I couldn’t help but feel inspired by this person. Not only were his stories captivating, the way he told his stories and his genuine expressions also made me feel honored to have met a person who was so willing to share his stories with me. I felt like I needed it that day.
It was my birthday – the day I turned 23. I rarely ever worked downtown on a weekday, but I was scheduled to work that Thursday because it was a Jewish holiday and I was one of the only people at the store who wasn’t Jewish. I remember battling the rush hour crowds on the bus and subway, only to be delayed by our city’s unreliable transit system. Walking into work frustrated by the delay, I opened the doors of the store just after 9am to find a huge mess left from the night before. A pile of unfolded shirts were scattered across the counter, waiting to be re-folded. 9 of them in total. Pieces of wrapping were on the floor, while half-unrolled ties hung off the shelves. It was like a war zone. I couldn’t believe that my co-worker had left the store the night before in that condition and I had to walk right into that mess on my birthday. What a way to celebrate.
As soon as I encountered the old man, my feelings about the day changed. The man triggered something in me. I didn’t know what it was at the time. I just knew that I felt very inspired and that his words were going to be significant in some way. I kept telling myself I had to remember the things he said. It’ll be important to me. We talked for a long time, mainly about his life experiences. He eventually had to leave in order to meet up with a friend. Before he left the store, he put his hand on my shoulder, looked me in the eye and said, “Remember, don’t create problems for yourself just so you can find solutions because in life problems will always find their way to you.”
I watched him walk away, knowing that I will probably never see him again. His last words repeated in my head as I stood there in awe. I had barely said a word about myself, yet somehow it was as if he knew exactly what it was that I needed to hear. Those were the words he chose to leave me with. I had no doubt that he was put into my life that day for a reason.
It made me think. Am I really creating problems for myself? How am I creating those problems? What are the problems I created? And, more importantly, why am I doing it?