I wouldn’t say I like talking to strangers. It gives me anxiety. Meeting new people and starting a new job make me anxious. However, if I am put in a situation where I need to talk, I will. Most of the time, I mainly listen and respond with minor reactions. There are some people I wish will carry on and leave me alone, while there are some that leave me astonish for a while after they are gone. That was what happened about a month ago during one weekend while I was with my friends. While hiking an old trail left untouched for many years, my friends and I ran into an elderly gentleman. I will call him Fred. As my friends and I laugh and joke—mainly at each other’s poor fitness level—Fred walked past us, and with a small laugh, he made a friendly remark.
“It’s nice to see a bunch of young folks enjoying a beautiful cloudy day.”
Then he continued while we wait for a few of us to catch out breaths. After a few minutes of hiking, we saw Fred sitting down to catch his breath. This time he greeted us and made small conversations with us before continuing his hike. We didn’t see him for the remainder of the hike uphill until we almost got to the top, and he was coming down.
“Almost there, just one more mile.”
Finally, we made it to the top after so many rests. The three-mile hike uphill feels like thirty miles for some of us. Even though it was cloudy that day, reaching the top was an accomplishment for all of us. Additionally, it was still a beautiful view to see how low the clouds were sitting on top of the hills of trees. A few minutes later, as more people starting gathering at the top, we made our way down the mountain. It took us less than thirty minutes to hike down the three miles.
Once we were back down to the parking area, we found an empty picnic table as other hikers already took all the other picnic tables. So we sat down and began to enjoy our lunch. It was then that Fred found us once again after standing and enjoying the view at a nearby lookout. Actually, we had seen him earlier as we were coming down. Our table could fit three more people, and with no where to sit he asked to shared a table with us. That was how we enjoyed our lunch with Fred. He asked us a few questions, for example, how long we have been friends. Where and what were we studying and attending college? Our hobbies and what we had in store for the future. We had no problem answering him and our conversation was flowing smoothly. He even shared with us a few of his stories, and we had a good laugh. Fred was a funny and cool older man. However, there was more behind his funny stories. He had stories full of loneliness, betrayals, and heartbreaking.
One of my friends is currently in graduate school to earn her master’s degree in social work. She also has some experience in the field. Fred began to tell us about the infrastructure of social work services from his days and told us about a time when he was put into foster care in the early 1970s as his abusive mother was unable to take care of him. She also had drinking and drug problems. He never saw her again. Then as another friend begin to share with us about her wedding preparations, one of us asked Fred about his wife and children. We learned that he lost both his wife and only son in a car accident. Five years later, he remarried, but the marriage did not last long as she took most of his savings and ran away.
“Many of my friends told me that I should date again after my wife left me. However, it was just too painful for me. Besides, I was never able to move on from my wife and son’s death. So, as a result, I began to work as if it was my last day. I work so hard so that I would not feel the pain of losing the two most important people in my life or the pain of someone I thought I could trust.”
He shared one of his biggest regrets with us: he pushed away someone who could have given him a third chance at happiness and love. She sounded beautiful, inside and out, from his descriptions. According to him, there were days when he wondered about how his life could have been different if he had only opened his heart instead of pushing her away. It is never too late to find love; however, Fred believes that he has rediscovered a whole new meaning of love and happiness during his time alone. He has two godchildren and five great godchildren that frequently visit him. He gets along great with his neighbors, and despite being 63 years old, he is strong and healthy. Before he left, he shared with us his new goal and the purpose of his hike.
“I always wanted to go to college, but I was too busy consuming myself with work to get over my pain. However, a few years ago my godchildren and great godchildren convinced me to do something for myself. I earned my GED last year and applied to college. I also thought it would be nice to move out of this little city. So I just thought I visit this old trail that I used to come with my wife and son one last time.”