A few years ago I was texting an old friend/business associate. He was also a mentor in a way. I was reaching out because I was asking for some help. I like to follow my own advice from my books including my first one Ask More Get More. I sent several texts, I even called and no response. Eventually, I began to think maybe I had done something wrong. Maybe he was mad at me. Paranoia started to kick in. Then anger. Why wasn’t he responding to me?
After about a week I just assumed for whatever reason that our friendship had ended so I sent him a pretty nasty text. Well, guess what? He responded. His response has stuck with me and really resonated. He said “Mike, I’ve been dealing with some personal issues. Your texts were not missed but my personal matters are more important right now. I’m sorry”. Then he said, “You should never assume you know what’s going on with someone else, you have no idea what they may be going through. So, next time I would be more cognizant of what that person may be going through before you judge or comment.”
Boy, it really made me feel little. I was embarrassed to assume that my texts were the only thing he had going on. I was being selfish and egotistical to think he should immediately respond to me. It really taught me a lesson.
A few weeks ago I was parked out front of a Starbucks about to go in when I noticed something odd. There was a guy standing in front of a high top table with a top hat on and was swaying somewhat erratically in front of a canvas that was on the table. Upon closer inspection he also had all these figurines meticulously displayed around a mini easel that he appeared to be painting on with two hands.
My first response was to film this guy and post on Instagram. It’s exactly what I did. Then I went in…I sat there and watched this apparently mentally disturbed guy and laughed inside. I eventually went in and sat down to get a closer look at this absurdity. People were walking in and out staring at him with fear and confusion. I heard one woman ask a barista if everything was okay. Her response was “just think of him as added entertainment, he’s harmless.”
Today, I walked into that very same Starbucks at 7am on a Sunday. When I looked to my left I saw a man standing in front of that very same high top table. He had a NewEngland Patriots hat on, a t-shirt and sweatpants. I also noticed a bunch of nicknacks and what appeared to be some sort of mini canvas. Low and behold, it was the same man I saw several weeks earlier. He was setting up for the day. He had several canvases, figurines, markers, pencils and he was getting ready to create his art.Now, I’m an art collector. I appreciate all forms of art, from the written word, to sculptures, to photographs, paintings and everything in between. As I waited for my coffee to come up I watched this man. It hit me very hard when I realized how much I had missed. I was embarrassed when I realized this guy just loved life. He was doing his thing unapologetically and seemed very happy and content doing it. I’ve been working on my own personal happiness a lot lately and realized this guy was too. I stood there and debated whether or not I was going to say something to him. I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to say. I just wanted to say something.
I eventually mustered the courage and went up to him. I said hey, “I saw you here a few weeks ago and I wanted to let you know that I really appreciate your zest for life and it makes me happy. Thank you.” He looked at me with piercing blue eyes that you could tell had seen a lot that also had a sense of sadness to them. He stared at me for what seemed like hours and said thanks and kind of looked away. Then he looked up and asked me a question. He said do you know what I do?
My response was yeah, you create art. He then let me into his world a little bit. He said, well no, I write. I actually write with two hands. He said I’m 56 years old, I have autism and I suffer from severe PTSD. I write on these canvases to help me feel. For 56 years I never felt anything, I lived in darkness and pain. I have recently lost everything, my wife, my kids, my home and this helps me get through the day.
He went on to explain to me his process and showed me some of his work. His story of trauma, loss and pain almost made me cry right then and there. I wanted to cry for him, but also out of embarrassment for me. I judged this man without having a clue what he had been through. As a fan of the arts I was very interested in his process. We sat there and talked for about 30 minutes. He explained to me how his process works a bit and was proud to show me how he copes with what he called “our reality”. His name is Eric and he appears to be a gentle soul.
I really don’t know his whole story. But, this man had been through more than most would want our worst enemies to be sentenced to. He was coping and appeared to be “making it”. I thanked him for his time, shook his hand (I asked if that was okay) then retreated to my car. As I sipped my Treinta iced coffee I looked through the window and watched him continue to set up. As I pulled away, tears just started to pour out of my eyes. I’m not sure why exactly.
But, as I write this I believe those were tears of joy and gratitude. Eric and I shared some mutual stories of suffering. Things we both experienced and seemed to connect in a way. I realized how lucky I am. For my health, my life, my family and my loved ones. I’ve been through a lot of shit in my life. But so hasn’t everyone. We all feel pain. It’s actually what makes us human.
But, when you really look at your pain, try to put it in perspective. When you get pissed that someone cut you off, or your hot tub isn’t working properly, or your latte isn’t exactly as you like it. Remember Eric and the millions of other people like him who suffer every second of every day and be grateful for what you have.
A graduate of Suffolk Law School, Michael Alden is a 3x Wall Street Journal and USA Today Best Seller. You can find all of his books on his web-site: www.michael-alden.com. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat @MikeAlden2012