Recently while visiting with some of my favorite people — the Golden K Kiwanis Club in Albany — I was reminded of something very important.
They shared with me the story of a club member a few years back who carried around with him tiny labels that he would hand out. On them was printed – You can learn something new from everyone you meet. I may not have the words just right, but that’s the gist of it. In his own way, he was reminding his friends, acquaintances, family, and strangers to not overlook the simple treasure that there’s a learning opportunity every single time we talk to someone.
A few years back they stuck one of his tiny labels on the door of the church social hall where they meet, they said. As I left that day, something made me turn around and look. There it was, right by the door handle, worn and weathered and faded with time.
You can learn something new from everyone you meet.
Maybe you prefer saying that everyone you meet knows something you don’t. Maybe it was Abe Lincoln who added a little oomph to it when he said, “You can learn something from everyone, even if it’s what not to do.” And maybe Will Rogers basically meant the same thing, in a roundabout way, when he said, “Everybody is ignorant, only on different subjects.”
It all boils down to this — everyone has a story. You’ve just got to ask.
I once read that the person you see standing before you, no matter who they are, young or old, rich or poor, angry or kind, is like a blockbuster movie ready to enthrall you. But first you have to buy a ticket.
True, we have all experienced those people who would rather give you a ticket than make you buy one. They are the ones who offer up every ounce of information about themselves, their neighbor, their neighbor’s dog, and their neighbor’s dog’s third cousin without ever being asked a thing. They over-communicate. Depending on your time and your mood, that may or may not be a good thing.
I’m so glad I had time the other day.
He was sitting alone at a table in the hospital cafeteria and I was waiting on someone. I sat down at the table next to his and he immediately said hello. “How are you?” I asked, and he proceeded to tell me that he was okay, just okay, because he was visiting his friend in the hospital and he wasn’t doing too good. They’ve been friends a long time, 65 years at least, and it will be hard if he has to let him go. The first time he met him was at a baseball game in an old dirt lot somewhere near downtown. He thinks there’s a building there now, but he’s not sure.
“Have you ever heard of Babe Ruth?” he asked me, and I said yes. When Babe Ruth died in 1948, his father put him and his friend in the car and drove them all the way from south Georgia to Yankee Stadium to pay their respects. “Did you know they laid his body at the stadium for people to say goodbye?” he asked and, before I could answer, he said he told his dad he’s glad they got there too late to see him there. He wanted to remember him playing baseball, not dead. So they stood outside and just watched the people going inside the church because they didn’t have the proper clothes on to go in. They were 10 years old, the two of them.
Then he stopped talking, there in the hospital cafeteria. He had to get home, so he said goodbye and I told him I hoped his friend would be okay. As he left it dawned on me that I had hardly said a word the whole time, I just listened. And I learned something new. I never knew Babe Ruth lay in Yankee Stadium before his funeral.
And just by listening, I heard a remarkable story. A blockbuster, if you ask me.
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