A long while back I struck up a conversation with an elderly man at my local gym. He had white hair and a scrambled spiderweb beard and knobbly knees that dropped out on matchstick stalks from under his over size checked shorts. I guessed he was in his eighties and his first impression was of an older more kyphotic version of the ‘professor’ in Back to the Future.
Anyways, we talked for a time about this and that. A longer and far more variegated conversation than one usually has at a gym.
He mentioned that he was about to go on holidays and I asked where and he told me that he was going trekking in Tibet and I went “whoa!” and I must have seemed incredulous and he assured me it was true and I admitted I was age-ist and then told him I thought that he was awesome which I did.
I mentioned something along the lines that I practiced Buddhism and that I hoped he got to visit the Potala, the original residence of the Dalai Lama until he was forced to flee to India during the 1959 Chinese invasion.
Eventually we parted and went back to our respective weights and I forgot all about him.
Some 3 months later he unexpectedly appeared at the gym again.
“Ian! Im so glad I caught you again….I have been keeping something for you…”
He disappeared into his daypack and pulled out some scrumpled old newspapers from the midst of which he produced a small grey rock.
“See? I was thinking about you as I was walking around the Potola and I kinda picked up this rock and I thought I would bring it home for you.”
Wow. I don’t know if I was more impressed that this ‘old’ man was still living a life of testing adventure or that he made the effort to bring me this gift that would obviously have some meaning to me.
As I said. This happened some time ago.
I never saw him come to the gym again, and I suspect his life has now fallen silent. A silence that will forever hold its stories (and I am thinking there were a great many adventures that were lived), in permanent mystery to me.
I keep the rock in a small hand carved box from Alaska that Kelly gave me. It sits on my bookcase.
And I will never forget that small moment of an unexpected gift.