When I realized what “was going down” I turned to my 12-year-old daughter and whispered in here ear, “Ignore this man. He’s not in the right state of mind. I’m right here, baby. Nothing’s going to happen.”
It was a beautiful day on the beach and we planted ourselves under the pier to avoid the super hot sun. We’d be there for at least 4 hours as we accompanied my husband on one of his unique work outings. Today, a world record would be set for the number of scuba divers holding hands underwater. It was a sight to see! As we settled in and claimed our spot among hundreds of divers, I heard his voice. A loud, obnoxious, slurry voice. In that instant my shoulders tensed, I felt a lump in my tummy, and I saw my daughter’s nervous eyes.
Let’s call him “Jim”. Jim was intoxicated. Most likely he was “on” more than just the vodka he was enjoying out of a Gatorade bottle. Feeling my daughter’s tension I immediately transformed into Mamma Bear—ready to protect my cub. Jim began to speak to us…exactly what I was praying he wouldn’t do. I got the feeling he claimed his spot too—overnight blanket, pillow and all, and that he wouldn’t be going anywhere.
As I read from my magazine, trying to ignore him, I heard him whisper to himself, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know I’m a loser. Don’t pay any attention to the loser.” In that moment, a wave of compassion drew over me, and I reminded myself of the knowledge about FEAR I usually teach to others. I said to myself…He is human and is in pain…I am always in control…Acceptance drives away fear…Curiosity creates connection and awareness. How bad could he be? In that moment I made the decision to send my fear to the sideline. I knew in my heart that I also wanted my daughter to make fear her friend, and to always know that she’s in control of what she chooses to think and how she wants to feel. I also knew how deeply compassionate my daughter is. Could this be a learning opportunity for all of us? In that moment, I decided to relax into the situation and have fun with it (as long as no true danger presented itself). I could feel the stress dissolve, and the adventure began.
Jim loved talking about himself and how smart he is… “I know the capitals of all the states! That’s how I make money. I don’t need to work. I make bets at the bar every night!” He proceeds to challenge me… “You’re smart. You’re a teacher, right?” My glasses were a giveaway. I responded, “Sort of…I teach at a college.” The challenge was on! What ensued for the next 4 hours was a trivia game of states and capitals, Great Lakes and continents, and a lot in between. My daughter and I were not as good as Jim was with Trivia, but we held our own.
I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun, and I was grateful for this day, and for Jim. Our open hearts also expanded our circle of friends that day. A young, Brazilian skate boarder communed with Jim and us and joined in the on the game. He also chose to share a cocktail with Jim! I said no to the vodka, but yes to a Werther’s candy he offered. I do like my caramel!
Other curious passersby couldn’t help but to join in the game too. Jim’s high-pitched drunken laugh was quite hard to ignore, but it also drew you in.
Along the way Jim’s harsh reality did set in though, as he showed me a crack pipe that just happened to show up. I had never seen one, and although I wasn’t looking forward to explaining this one to my daughter, it was yet another opportunity for her to understand the duality and sometimes harsh realities of life.
The best part of this adventure was realizing that Jim and I shared a favorite movie…Urban Cowboy! We closed out our adventure and trivia game with a song. I played one of my favorite songs from the movie for Jim and asked him who the singer was. He was stumped; I felt like a winner in may ways that day.
Thanks, Jim, for a humbling lesson in letting go of fear, living in the moment and with curiosity and compassion, and understanding that we’re not so different after all.