This post originally appeared on Medium.com.
Sunday afternoon at the Whalin homestead: the sun is shining and it’s warm enough to have the windows propped open. I’m purposeful about soaking up the Seattle sun before it’s gone. And what better way than multitasking, right?
So while soaking up the sun, I’m also on my hands and knees, scrubbing the mold off my windowpanes (another story for a different time…) when an old man strolls by on the sidewalk. Only half paying attention — I was scrubbing away mold, after all — I watched as he stopped to stare up at my building. Then he began to shout: the old man was hollering up at me, behind my privacy of glass, into my home.
He was asking about the FOR RENT sign staked in the flowerbed. The unit above me is currently open. I told him I didn’t know, that he should call the phone number on the FOR RENT sign.
Grimy mold-covered sponge in hand, I went back to scrubbing the windowpanes.
And then something remarkable happened. He began to tell me his entire life story.
This man has been living down the street in a four-bedroom house since 1965. The only time he left Seattle was when he and his dying wife traveled around the world. They did this three times before she passed away. He has $100K in debt from these adventures. Now his sister wants him to move to Florida, closer to his family
A few years ago, he suffered a major head injury when riding his motorcycle on Sixth Avenue. (I nod and smile. I have no idea where that is.) He stopped at a light; the car behind him didn’t. Since then, the only way he feels “at home” is in this neighborhood. He tells his sister he doesn’t want to leave Seattle for Florida, but she’s insistent.
So now he’s thinking of selling his four-bed, three-bath down the street to move to Florida. He asks how much I think his home is worth now. (I don’t know sir, just how much?) $450,000.
Apparently, up on the hill, there’s a row of condos for sale — each worth $650,000. He didn’t understand how his four-bed, three-bath home was worth less than a condo with half the square footage. (I shook my head in bewilderment.) So now he definitely isn’t moving because he can’t compete with the condos on the hill.
The old man slumps his shoulders and throws his hands down at his sides. Again, he asks what I thought he would do next? (I don’t know sir, what?) Well, his sister from Florida moved in with him, of course. He laughs. (I laugh.) Now he’s been fighting over the different rooms in his house because of all her crap. This sister has a lot of furniture stockpiled in the two empty bedrooms. He laughs again. (I smile.) His sister has been out of town the past few days so he’s been making trips to the Salvation Army, donating her crap while she’s not home. This sister from Florida is going to get a big surprise when she comes home.
I continue to listen to the old man as a bus and then a slew of traffic drive by. His words are lost in the sound of car radios and the friction between tires and asphalt. He throws his hands down at his sides again and says something about the traffic. (You have a great day sir and take care.) He continues on his way back to his four bedroom home.
This isn’t the first time someone has insisted on talking to me. I’m usually approached at bus stops or train stations. Or grocery stores.
There’s the man on the train going into downtown Denver. Police scanner plastered to his right ear, this guy told me about the rapes and suicides going on in Mexico City. But he knew better than to travel to Mexico, clearly so dangerous, especially for a young woman like me.
Or the woman buying kitty litter for her bunnies. She just doesn’t understand the outrageous prices of kitty litter. It should clearly be cheaper, since it’s for her rabbits.
There’s also the woman buying deodorant for her preteen daughter. She gave me an overwhelmed glance. I made a suggestion. She then told me how she and her daughter have been trying to find the perfect deodorant for their … well, I’ll spare you the details.
And not to forget the proud mother at the checkout. Her oldest son just published his first book on Amazon. He also met Barack Obama, so I should definitely read it. I asked for her son’s name, that I’d look it up and read it. His book is currently on my Amazon wish list.
“Everyone has a story they just want to be heard.”
If there’s one thing I’ve learned from these strangers and their stories, it’s that everyone has something to share, they just need someone to listen.
People have legacies that are crying out to be heard. And sometimes people are just lonely, longing for another human being to understand what’s in their head.
So take a moment and listen. These stories never last more than a few minutes. You never know how you might impact someone’s day just by listening.
They may even leave you with a smile.