He was the spitting-image of old Westerns. Long snow-white beard with a handle-bar mustache. Straight-backed saunter and an angle to his chin that made you wonder if he ever made eye contact with you when he talked, or if he just held his gaze straight on perpetually. A man of few words, his deep growl came out with an accent thick as mud, such that you had to crank your head to listen harder.
I never got his name, though I’ve memorised his every demeanor to the last detail. And his final words to me are marks etched in stone, forever burned into my memory.
“You want some cup ramen and a Styrofoam cooler?” At first, I didnt realise he was talking to me. “Uh…yeah?” It came out more a question. “Sure.” Naturally, I was hesitant. Why would one stranger lend a helping hand to another?
“How about some heavy duty trash bags?”
It was evident that my car was weighed down with the wares of my travels on the road. And, after all, I was practically camped out at the laundromat parking lot where this gentleman worked. Why should I be suspicious of a helping hand?
His off-road vehicle golf-cart strummed to a stop next to my aged black Honda.
“Thank you for being so kind.” I initiated after an odd pause.
“Y’all take care and be safe…” Another pause. “Where ya headed?”
“I came across country from the East coast and am headed towards California before making the return trip back east. Where you from?”
“Originally from California. My fam’s been comin’ here since I was a kid. I grew up a quarter mile from the Pacific coast. But I fell in love with this place.”
“Utah is phenomenal…but don’t you miss the sea? That’s exactly what my road trip is for. I’m searching for a new place to live. I’ve moved around to quite a number of places but nothing feels like home yet.”
Then, Old Faithful surprised me.
“Let your soul be silent; you’ll find it.”
He stopped me in my tracks. My inward smile encompassed my whole being; so there are still stoic poets in the world!
“Thank you for saying that.” It was so rare to find kindred spirits.
As if he had read my mind, he started mentioning how hard it is to find genuine spirits around. “You thought I wanted somethin’ from ya, didn’t ya?” I admitted so with a nod. “We all come from different places; we’re all different colors. And in reality, we’re all spirits enclosed in meatbags.”
My response of laughter couldn’t be controlled. And as I laughed, I was amazed to see his stoic veneer melt into a 2-second chuckle. He felt it, too. And, realizing his cowboy façade had cracked, he cranked his mini-engine again.
I took the queue for his exit and thanked him again for his kindness.
His stern mask had already taken back its place on his face and replied, “Y’all be safe.”
I took away a very important lesson that day. By spending 10 minutes in honest conversation with a stranger, I walked away with new wisdom held in silence. I also came away with a deep knowledge that we are all simply permeable, fluid, compassionate creatures that are packaged in a sack of meat with a bone framework.