All weekend I had worked with The Happy World Company team. We attended an event, we ran two more, and created a safe space for some transformational work to happen. We coached, we learned things, our participants learned things..... now it was time to relax and catch up with my friend who I had not seen for 18 years.
I was already late, and worried my friend was delaying the dinner. As I walked along the lit pavements from the station to her flat, I could see a man with a cane ahead of me. He was unsteady on his feet, and occasionally his body crumpled over; each step was an effort. His dark hooded coat hid most of his medium-sized frame.
As I got closer I could see he was carrying two shopping bags which swayed, sometimes with him, and sometimes in opposition, as if they were on a mission to keep him as off balance as possible. The street was desolate apart from the two of us, and the possibility that he might collapse appeared likely.
I approached from behind, and he suddenly swayed again, stumbled forward three more steps, and ‘landed’ against a lamppost. And there he stopped.
I had to choose now... would I walk past or would I speak to him? I walked alongside him and asked, 'Are you ok?'
He looked up, smiled with a hint of embarrassment, but could not speak for a moment as he was breathless. 'I fell over a minute ago.'
'Do you need help?' I asked. We were on the same road together, and I was there to help him if I could.
'I don't drink,' he said, 'at least not at home.’ His words were clear but the pace was stilted. ‘I smell of alcohol though. I have friends coming tomorrow.' He stopped speaking to catch his breath again, gesticulating with his cane, his shoulder still propped up on the lamppost. Then he held up the bags which were swinging about with some momentum in his other hand. 'This bag – it all just went....' and he gestured across the pavement and into the street.
'Where are you going?' I asked. He nodded, tried to steady himself on his feet but the bags were still making it hard for him, and he fell back against the lamppost again.
'Please,' he asked, 'would you take these?' and he handed me the two shopping bags, each weighed down by 5-6 cans of cheap lager.
'Of course,' I said.
We walked along the road slowly, and I soon established that he and my friend lived in the same building. I told him I'd walk him to his flat. 'You are an angel sent to help me today,' he said with a sheepish grin, and I sensed he probably needed one. What he most wanted was company and conversation, so I indulged him as we shambled the two or three hundred yards to his door.
He wanted to know my name, and where I lived. Then he told me about himself. ‘I live with my wife,’ he said, holding up his cane with a mixture of pride and resentment. ‘I call it my wife….. ‘ he said, almost giving me the cane, as if I should shake its hand, and he stopped to take another breath, ‘.... because she’s been with me for so long.’ He put her down again, and I watched as his confused feet tried to take a few more steps.
When he found out I was from the USA, the conversation took a completely unexpected turn.
'Can I come to visit you in New York?' he asked.
My heart stopped. He’d hit the core of something in me, that quick. I had told him my homeland was the USA, but I had not mentioned New York.
New York…. a city that follows me, haunts me, beckons me. No other place he might have mentioned could send tremors through me. He could not know that I have never been to the great city. That I have a burning desire to see and experience New York. That work has recently come out of New York that has radically changed my life. That a dear friend was in New York just a couple days before. That much as I wished it, I could not be in New York at the same time. That I have wanted to go to New York for years, but that running my business and having twins five years ago have rather put that dream on the shelf.
He must have picked up on the background noise in my mind. 'You must go!' he said, incredulous. 'Do not give up on your dreams! You can go, you know. What are you waiting for?'
'I have responsibilities....' I said. And he nodded but remained insistent. He seemed much more steady on his feet now, but still had occasion to sway, mostly driven from the overexpression he gave his words using his cane, which he was then quickly obliged to depend upon to stop himself falling over.
My friend's voice echoed down from her balcony three floors up. 'It's the next set of doors,' she called down. 'Everything ok?'
I confirmed I was fine, and then politely refused his follow up offer that my friend come down for a drink. Then he picked up where he left off.
'You should believe in yourself! Why do you doubt yourself?' He waited for me to reply. I was speechless. I have this dream, which I certainly am letting get away from me. I’ve made all sorts of excuses about why it can’t happen, why things are too difficult, why I have stalled this dream and waited for a rainy day to resurrect it. And why? Why had I given up on this fairly simple dream of mine to visit New York?
He called my attention back into our mutual space. 'You will go – yes?'
I hesitated for just a moment. I smiled. Inside I laughed. Here I was, thinking I was helping this man get to his destination, but the tables had turned and he was trying to get the ticket booked for the journey my life needed to make.
'Good,' he said, as we reached his door.
'Thank you,' I managed.
'Merry Christmas! That is my gift to you.' I thanked him, and helped him get the key into his door. He gave me an overly familiar hug, kissed both my cheeks, and thanked me for my help. With a lot of fumbling in the dark, he managed to take back his bags.
Before I left, I clasped his hands and looked him straight in the eye. 'I'm glad I chose to talk to you today,' I said. 'We all have choices – make good ones. That is my gift to you.' I let him go, and felt what I'd given him, though he needed it, was less valuable to him than what I'd received. He smiled, nodded bashfully.
I began to back away, heading for the stairwell, and he kept up his chatter with me responding until I was out of his sight. By this time my friend was concerned and had sent her husband down to fetch me. 'Colourful neighbourhood, eh?' he said. We laughed and climbed the stairs, and I gave my long never-lost friend a slow hug.
The encounter was a magical moment... a brief flicker of time when two people saw each other, understood something, and we both left changed. I think I got the better end of the deal. But it never would have happened if I had not chosen to take a little risk. Why did I make that choice?
For many reasons, but the one that matters is this: because the grounded place in my body and soul told me to reach out and help, and I obeyed that urge. And something beautiful and unexpected happened.... that's how it works.
At the Happy World Company we create opportunities for any person who comes to us to encounter themselves in a new way, in order to find that grounded place that allows them to act with conviction and authenticity, to do and be exactly who they are, without expectations of others imposed upon them. We have found that this is when the real magic of life begins to happen.
We would love to help you in your journey to finding your more authentic self. We don't have all the answers, but we know some things that work and some tools you can use to see what leads you more and more to the person you want to be.
To find out more about our events and opportunities, sign up HERE to subscribe to our mailing list. We will be in touch!
Written and experienced by Heidi Hollis