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June 29, 2011

You cannot win if you do not play

One day, as I was leaving my favorite (locally owned) coffee shop, I was delayed ever so slightly at the door by a strange little man. He had a curious appearance. As I recall, he looked like he might have been dusty, but it could have been the affect of his coat, a ruddy brown cloth jacket, maybe a size or two too big, over a tan and brown shirt and pants combination, and shoes that (I’m surprised I had the time to notice) looked terribly comfortable, like old Hush Puppies.

But I was in a hurry, and he was in the way. As he pushed the door open, he seemed to take its measure — he regarded it. It was almost as if his activity was designed to block my progress. And then he looked up at me (I am extraordinarily tall) and observed me with the same regard he had had for the door, and said something that sounded like … an apology? But the words were strange; he said something … about the door? But it seemed important in some way. My haste diminished, I was suddenly overcome by the slightest bit of concern for him. It didn’t sound like he knew English, and he seemed to be more than a little out of step with his circumstances.

Almost completely flummoxed, I remember I was probably looking at him a little sideways when I said, “I’m sorry?” I don’t know exactly why I said that. It may have been more appropriate to have asked if he was OK or … I don’t know. I think I was trying to get him to repeat himself so I could see if I could understand what he said, whether it was poorly spoken English or would reveal itself as a language I might recognize, but when I said that, he just smiled. No, he didn’t “just” smile. He beamed! A giddy sense of peacefulness and recognition simply emanated from his body, and he offered a little laugh, almost reciting it, “Ha ha!,” as he stepped out of my way.

I was stunned, although I can’t say exactly why. I forgot I was late for something, and I watched as he walked into the store, half concerned for his well-being and half not wanting to get involved with someone who may simply prove to be insane. I shook it off and got on with my day.

While there is more to the story, what stuck with me, what continues to stay with me, about that incident was that there was an extraordinary exchange between us. I have come to accept that we understood one another more completely than it seemed. I should probably point out that, as I stood there, waiting to pass through the door, I held it open for him. This is a simple matter of manners and engineering; when two people meet at a door, the person who can pull the door should wait for the person who would push the door. It is simple rudeness to pull a door open and let it close behind you when someone else is waiting to pass. There is an economy to opening a door once for two people to cross paths, but this point is somewhat secondary to the strange perfection of the incident I recounted above.

I have said it before that I regard all drivers with equal disdain, but every once in a while, I notice that another driver is operating their vehicle in such a manner that indicates they have concern and regard for the rest of us. They might signal before changing lanes. They might give way when I signal. They may simply make an effort to maintain a safe distance from other cars. Whatever the way, it is always strangely encouraging to see it, and I guess that is how the man in the doorway affected me.

For further consideration: I have a friend who likes to play Scrabble to a draw. If, by playing cooperatively, the score comes up even at any point, she advocates a tie or a mutual win and ends the game. Another game designed to be played cooperatively against the board is Forbidden Island. It’s well worth finding, especially if you have kids between the ages of 6 and 12.