I first met my friend Dick at the Bernardo Winery just north of San Diego about five years ago. He has an amazing life story and can pick out a great bottle of wine. We’ve shared a few drinks and dozens of cups of coffee between us while we’re unloading the history of our lives. He’s 85 years old.
When he lost his wife, we made it a point to meet every week. He was so down. We talked about him coming to the winery more often, and I made time to meet him there two or three times a week. After a couple of months, he started coming by himself. He would spend an hour or so at the winery over coffee and in the afternoon and weekends. His circle of friends widened immediately. And his stories became more colorful. He started to enjoy life again.
Now, when he and I have our weekly coffee, we sit on a bench outside the winery door. Within minutes, Dick has a raft of people that come over, sit down, and start talking with Dick about their lives, their kids, and what they’ll be doing tomorrow.
Remember, I’m sitting next to him. I came over to see him for coffee. They barely notice I’m there. Most don’t take the time even say “hello” or even make eye contact. They are there only to talk to Dick.
They come to him as soon as they see he’s around. I have heard people say, “I saw you from the parking lot, and I wanted to say hello.” The parking lot is about 200 yards away.
And these people cover a range of ages. I’ve seen people in their twenties and one woman who “just turned ninety six” come over and talk to him. They say their peace, which lasts a minimum of five minutes, then move on. Some will sit down, which extends their stay.
That is my cue to warm up my coffee. I hope that, before it gets cold, I can get back to hanging out with Mr. Popularity by myself.
I asked him how he was able to attract all these people. He said, “The winery is just a half mile down the road. I would have gone crazy just sitting in the house.”
“So,” Dick said, “I came here, and I started to say hello.”
“There’s got to be more to it than that,” I said. “I can come here and say hello all day and people would think I was trying to rob them.”
“Well, it’s more than that.”he said, putting down his coffee, “I only asked questions. It’s not magic. I never talked about myself. I didn’t want anyone to feel sorry for me because I was a widow or that I was an old man sitting alone.”
“I asked how they were doing, what their name was, and what brought them to the Winery. I just made a point of asking people about themselves. I wanted to learn about them.”
“Everybody, in time, always engaged in a conversation. They started to talk back to me.”
“And, I’m sure you know, people love to talk about themselves.”
I asked him if he had anything in common with the folks that spoke to him. He started to giggle a little and said, “Oh, no, not at all. That’s not the point. I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to keep the loneliness away. If there’s somebody that has my same interests and seems to be interested in me, that’s a bonus.”
“But,” he said, “you see, that’s the compromise of loneliness. You settle for company, not friendship. You don’t worry about compatibility. You just hope for someone to sit by you and talk. You have to be present, then listen, and hope they stay a while. I am genuinely interested in their stories, so it’s easy to sit and ask questions. And I’m so happy that they’re with me I just naturally have a smile on my face.”
Dick nodded his head and smiled. “I don’t have the luxury to be angry. I must move past any depression to allow people to come to me with their lives. That’s the only way I’ll keep from being lonely. It’s not always easy. But I get ready, come here, and keep moving on.”
“Eventually,” he said, “I’ve made a couple of friends. And I know I’ll make more. Again, it’s not the goal. It’s the compromise. And I assume they’re compromising, too, hanging around with an eighty five year old guy.”
Pointing around the winery, Dick said, “If I am here, being among all these people for the rest of my life, I’ll be as happy as I’ve ever been. Just smiling, asking questions, appreciating their company, and keeping my mouth shut.”
“I give loneliness a run for it’s money that way.”