The Best Conversation I Ever Had

16 Dec

A simple bus ride from Disney’s Wilderness Lodge to Downtown Disney today turned out to be one of the best and most meaningful happenings of my trip. I don’t know if it’s because people can tell I’m traveling by myself or if I just have that “easy to talk to” aura about me, but I’ve met some wonderful people this week on my “solo vacation” and the one that I’ll always remember is an older gentleman named Charles Laughlin, 76 years old from Monroe. LA. This chance meeting and conversation made a lifelong impact on me and the way I see things. I’ve always believed in certain things, certain ways of looking at things, and having faith but seeing it through his eyes really put it into perspective for me.

The bus was crowded so I gave up my seat to a young mother and her son and stood at the front of the bus near the driver, directly across from this man. As soon as I took my place, he gave me a genuinely friendly smile and told me that I was the only person he’d seen today with manners. I politely thanked him and wished him a Merry Christmas. This began a very thoughtful conversation. He thanked me for using the words “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” and then we discussed the true meaning of Christmas and how it is a time for family and to be with those you love the most. He told me this was his first trip to Disney World after much pleading from his kids and grandkids over the years and he was truly enjoying himself more than he had n a long time. We talked about me losing my job, the fact that I’m single and on vacation alone, and then he told me that he was a widower whose first wife passed away after complications from heart surgery about 20 years ago, which sent him into a deep depression. He worked at a paper mill and being depressed, worked as many hours as possible in order to keep from going home to the memories of Erma and the happy life he once had. He told me how wonderful Erma was, how he thought she was the love of his life and how they had 4 wonderful children. He told me how they met while at a church function (he’s a faithful Catholic who never misses a mass) and he thought she was heaven on earth, they dated for a year and then got married in a quiet ceremony at the city hall office. He said she had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen and a smile that would knock a man out of his shoes. They were married many years until she got sick and had to have surgery for a heart condition. She didn’t make it out of the operating room and his whole world changed.

He said he worked as much overtime as they would allow, including weekends and nights. He started binge drinking and taking sleeping pills to knock himself out when he wasn’t working. He stopped spending time with his kids and didn’t really get to know his grandchildren. One day he showed up for work, began his day and three hours into his shift began to sweat and felt like a boulder was sitting right in the middle of his chest. He was having a heart attack. He was taken to the hospital and told that he had to stop killing himself, working himself to death or the next one would be major and likely fatal. This twist of fate brought him to his knees and made him wake up. He took early retirement so he could spend time doing what he’d missed out on for years instead of trading his time for money. He began exercising, going to his community center and getting involved in giving back to other people, spending time with those he’d neglected and he went back to church. Going back to church resulted in another major change in his life – he met his second wife, Beth, of 6 years. He had known of Beth through church for years but never took the time to get to know her. He said he’d never really noticed her, never took the time to talk to her and said she was never a woman that would turn his head. She approached him on his first day back at mass to welcome him back and see how he was doing. They became fast friends, spending much time together in church activities. He said he saw a side of her that wasn’t obvious to the eye, her genuine ability to make him feel good about himself and give him back the confidence he had lost and the will to live that he had lost before his heart attack. He gave up drinking and no longer had to take pills to get a good night’s sleep. He found himself growing more attracted to her and wondering why he’d never noticed her before because she was such a beautiful person and she made him feel like he could conquer anything. After dating for a few years, they married. He said that while he loved Erma, he felt like she had a part in leading him to Beth. We talked about how much his kids love Beth and how they all decided to spend the week at Disney World together. This is the first time they’ve done a family vacation with the kids and grandkids and he said he feels like the luckiest man in the world. He has a wonderful family that he’s discovered and he found real love, the love that lasts a lifetime and that the things that matter are the only things that you can take with you – memories of a life well lived, even if it took a major situation to make him live it well, memories of those that are closest to your heart and a real love that lasts with you until the end.

When the bus ride was over, we got separated because he went back to help his daughter with his grandson. I was still thinking about what he’d said and the story he told me when I felt a hand on my shoulder, it was Charles. He wanted to tell me one more thing before he left, he wanted to tell me that he believes in “The Big Man Upstairs” and that He has a meaning for everything, good and bad. He said that he feels that the reason things haven’t worked out for me with job and love is that the time hasn’t been right for the “right” thing to come along but it will and when it does, everything else will seem insignificant because I’ll have what I’m supposed to have. He said you don’t have anything if you don’t have faith, belief in real love, and the ability to open your heart to others. He told me his impression of me is that I am a genuine, loving person with a heart of gold and that it’s obvious by the smile on my face, the way I looked at him and paid attention when he told me his story and the way I present myself. He gave me a quick hug and then he was gone. It’s almost like he knew I needed to talk about these things, to give myself a reason to believe that things will improve. I think Charles was an angel. If he wasn’t, he was to me.

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One Response to “The Best Conversation I Ever Had”

  1. Susie September 20, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    Thank you Jenn for sharing this wonderful story. It is truly touching and inspiring.

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