My wife, Gina, and I are push-stepping-stalling-walking along the aisle of a big ol’ jet airliner that ain’t as big as they used to be.
I know this from my own flying experience, but the man already sitting next to our assigned seats openly declares the fact.
He’s much older than us, maybe by forty years or more, but he’s far from frail.
Well dressed, wearing a tie, he also carries his own flask on this pre-9/11 airplane.
I appreciate his offer of a snort, but I decline.
It’s 10:00 in the morning.
After take-off, we settle in and he starts to speak.
Polite queries and observations at first.
“Are you two married?”
“I see you have books. What are you reading?”
It’s the price you pay, living in a polite society.
Then he cuts to the chase.
“Do you like the Kennedys?”
“As in, the President’s family?” I say.
“Yeah. Do you like ’em?”
“I never met them,” I say with a smile.
“I did. Played golf with Bobby. Met Ted a couple times.”
“That sounds like quite an experience,” I say.
“I hate their guts.”
And so it begins. Two hours–from South Carolina to Missouri–of stories, observations and reminiscences.
What’s true and what just might be made-up blurs together.
But what shines through is the wisdom.
There was a song a few decades back called “The Gambler” by Kenny Rogers. Most people know it, and most of them know how the story goes.
An old gambler on a train gives advice to a young cowboy about the cards. Advice that’s equally good for living life.
Our friend, who never gives us his name (“Not smart to tell strangers your name, son.”) is like the gambler in the song.
On petty tyrants: “Give a little person a little power and you’re in trouble.”
On problem solving: “If you can’t pull it outta your head, you better be able to pull it outta your ass.”
On goals: “Don’t let anybody else define your wants.”
By the time we land, he’s only getting warmed up, and I’m exhausted.
Pretending to be preparing for a class she’s teaching, Gina’s been taking notes.
Like Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, or maybe Robert Heinlein’s Notebooks of Lazarus Long, the notebook become an instant cult classic.
But only for us two.
When we depart, we each shake his hand and he says, “One more word of advice.”
“What is it?” I ask.
He puts his finger on my chest. “Live your life.”
Then on Gina’s chest. “Live your life.”
“I’ve lived mine,” he says. “And now I’ve shared it with you.”
And we take his words to heart.