The Slim Tall Stranger Approached Me…

and asked if he could join me sitting on the small bench outside the Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) market. I said, “Sure.”

I had just finished my shopping and was waiting for my husband to come by with the car to pick up me and our groceries. I was munching on a Yogurt Honey Peanut Balance Bar. The young man opened up his TJ’s bag and pulled out a box and ripped into it. He offered me a chocolate bon-bon. I declined and he started eating one – I found out this is yet another wonderful tempting confection offered by Trader Joe’s.

While we each waited for our rides, the effortlessness of our ensuing conversation surprised me. I am an introvert by nature and not inclined to just connect with a complete stranger and strike up a conversation. I sometimes hold back even with people I know!

We spent a short time waiting and chatting. My bench mate spoke with an accent, had lots of facial hair, and was wearing one of those funky knit hats that many people in Bellingham wear. It seemed maybe he was the “starving student type” – hard to tell. The conversation moved along: the TJ parking lot and store is always busier on Fridays because it’s payday – that’s why he was there – to spend some of his check on his favorite foods at Trader Joe’s. He is especially fond of chocolate – he seeks to share it with anyone who will partake, just to save him from eating it all himself.

After learning that I live on the island across the water, he mentioned that he and his wife have a 27 foot trailer-able sailboat and have sailed around our island on occasion. I shared that we had owned a Hobie Cat 16 sailboat when we lived in Northern California. We sold it when we moved up here, where the waters are too cold for that kind of sailing. That brought his reply that he’d learned to sail on just such a boat, when he was 12 in New Zealand (oh, so that’s where his accent comes from…) We shared stories of our love of sailing Hobie Cats – so close to the water, feeling the speed as if you are in a slippery race car on the water. And oh!!! the fun “flying the hull!” (that is when you are sailing fast enough and in the right wind direction, the pontoon lifts you up high up out of the water.)

He wondered what else we would do while we’re “in town.” Russ and I were there to go to our favorite theatre, the Pickford Film Center, which shows films shown nowhere else in the area. “I Am” was showing and I had waited for a couple of months for it to appear in Bellingham.

The man wanted to know what the movie was about – he hadn’t heard of it, or the Pickford Theatre. I heard the movie was about a man who has a life changing experience and goes around talking to various spiritual and scientific leaders to find out what’s wrong with the world and how to fix it. Wisdom and philosophies from people such as Jesus, Gandhi, Desmond Tutu, the Beatles, and Einstein were also featured. I was looking forward to leaving the film feeling more optimistic than I have been lately – at least I was hoping that would be the result.

Then my new young friend started telling me why he doesn’t worry about anything very much…

In the year 2000 he was diagnosed with terminal cancer. He went through surgery, radiation and experimental treatment, and he was told to “get his affairs in order.” He sold everything he owned and bought a business class round-the-world airline ticket. He bought an urn to hold his ashes. He’d even calculated how much his ashes would weigh so he purchased the correct size urn. His cremation was pre-paid – he was all set. At that point in his life, he was prepared to die. He said he was even a little relieved to know that he wouldn’t get old and wouldn’t have to suffer the risks that go along with being elderly. He was in pain and the doctors had him using morphine and another drug to keep him comfortable.

He took off to see the world and to visit his friends to say, “Good bye.”

During his trip he met a young woman, who later married him. She was from Bellingham – that’s how he ended up here. Part way through their round-the-world journey, they visited an island in Thailand. He met a young doctor there who had just served for six years in Bangkok at a cancer treatment center.

I didn’t get to hear the details of what happened with the doctor, but my “stranger” has been in total remission for years now. His lovely wife interrupted our conversation by pulling up in a shiny Audi and he hopped in. He said something to her. She smiled and he waved as they pulled away.

You can learn a lot about a person in ten minutes!

But not even his name or how I could connect with him again…
I hope I got his “story” right and I’d like to know more of it!

The movie, “I Am” was terrific. Even Oprah thinks that the director Tom Shadyac got it right! The understanding of the “connection” of everything in the entire universe becomes crystal clear. It made me smile thinking about the “connection” I’d made earlier in the day with my stranger at Trader Joe’s.

And it made me wonder … how much DON’T I know about the people around me…?


7 responses to “The Slim Tall Stranger Approached Me…

  1. Erin Laycock

    LOVE this!! Covered in goosebumps… STILL! It’s amazing the things we can learn from perfect strangers… :)Thank-you for sharing your story. 🙂 xo

  2. Glad you liked it – I hope I run into this guy again! I think there is more to be learned (HA – isn’t there always?!)

  3. What a lovely, beautifully told story. We need to find this person and his beautiful wife and get them over to the island. I want to talk to him about New Zealand!

  4. Anne – what is it about people from New Zealand?! It seems I always end up really liking them. I’m so sorry that his wife came when she did – the story was getting very interesting and they do seem like lovely people! Maybe it’s in the stars that our paths will cross again – I hope so.

  5. The perfect part was the wife arriving and off they wafted. And you wouldn’t want it any other way….

    It simply adds to the mystery that you have depicted so well.

    “Into the Mystic!”

  6. Great story, Cat. Thanks too for the link to “I AM” — I watched the trailer and definitely will go ASAP.

    Keep writing.

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