So who was the rough-looking guy, sitting alone on the veranda of the Raglan pub? And what was it about him that caused me to notice him?
Dressed in steel-capped work boots, wrap-around sunglasses and a weathered broad- brimmed hat he was an interesting contrast to the young, foreign travellers taking up the other tables.
This casual observation happened when as we visited the town of Raglan, home to some of New Zealand’s best surfing locations, and the northern most point of a two week road trip.
Having parked up our caravan we set off for a stroll around this charming town. It was late afternoon and there was time for a quick shop before finding a drink and meal.
Having completed my gift shopping, the Raglan hotel appeared to be the best choice for having cold beer while being able to enjoy the late afternoon sunshine.
When we got there I immediately noticed the guy with the dark glasses and hat was still there, sitting alone. As he was occupying the only table with seats to spare, I did something I hadn’t done for a while and asked if we could join him.
Not letting my anxiety or nerves get in the way
Often it’s my anxiety or nerves that put me off approaching a stranger in this way. But that day, my curiosity got the better of me. I was drawn to finding out more about him.
The guy seemed okay about us joining his table but his next comment: “as long as you don’t say stuff I won’t understand” took me by surprise. I wasn’t sure what he was saying at the time, but please bear with me and I will explain.
Over the next hour we got into a conversation about local issues, travel, life and politics. Initially, he was happy to answer any questions I asked but his responses were very quiet and I noticed how he barely opening his lips when speaking.
I could tell he was holding back but as the conversation progressed his shyness evaporated. However it appeared he had no intention of removing the wrap-around, sunglasses that sat above his suntanned, craggy face.
That meant there was no way to make eye contact. It is situations like this generally make me feel uncomfortable but this time, oddly, I wasn’t bother. I think I was too busy listening.
Over the next hour we learned that this guy was born in the area and still lived on a farm not far from Raglan. He grew up with surfing and had spent most of his life in the area working as a builder.
He joked about going through a midlife crisis and as a result had recently changed his work to get more variety. He also told us that he had spent the day driving a digger before stopping at the pub for a quiet beer before going home to his family.
A few stories and a couple of beers later we said our farewells, all knowing it would be extremely unlikely that we would ever to meet again.
At the time I remember thinking that if we did ever meet again, I wouldn’t even recognise him as I had no real idea of what he looked like. As I said, the dark, wrap-around sunglasses hadn’t left his face during the whole time we talked.
He removed the sunglasses to reveal his warm, intelligent, light-blue eyes. He stopped, took a moment and looked us in the eye before shaking our hands and saying a final goodbye.
This instant came back to me later that evening when I was re-reading the book: Turning the Mind Into An Ally by Buddhist author, Sakyong Mipham Ripoche. In one chapter he writes a lot about generosity and the most precious gift we offer is when we trust others and show our vulnerability and even the simple act of meeting someone else’s eyes is a about letting down our armour.
It was then I understood what had happened in the moment when he removed his glasses. What had begun as a reluctant acceptance of our presence at his table, had turned into trust, a desire to connect and share himself with us.
But what about the original puzzle?
What did he mean when he said; “don’t say things I won’t understand”?
And then for the second time that day, it dawned on me!
It was his subtle and polite way; “Don’t bullshit me. Don’t try to impress me with your city talk”.
It still makes me chuckle. “Don’t say things I won’t understand”. I wonder if I will use this the next time someone tries to impress me with complicated language.
Lessons learned about Trust and Bullshit
Firstly, don’t be put off by someone’s appearance. We all wear protective armour. For some it’s a corporate suit, for others it’s a false smile or a staunch attitude.
Secondly, don’t talk bullshit. It won’t help you make friends.