March 1, 2013 10:38:45 AM
I was at lunch Thursday when an older gentleman managed to capture my attention.
"Are you Slim Smith?" he asked.
When confronted with this seemingly benign question, I always respond with a degree of trepidation and feel the urge to ask, instead, "Uh, why do you want to know?"
I attribute this mainly to my chosen profession. As a newspaper guy, I know that when I identify myself, I am certain to get an earful. Sometimes, it's good. Sometimes, it's not. Either way, people are generous about sharing their views on what I do and how I do it.
In this instance, it was a pleasant exchange.
"I really like what you write," the older gentleman said.
"Thanks,'' I responded. "I really appreciate that."
A little while later, he came over to where I was sitting.
"I have something in my car for you,'' he said. "I'll be right back."
"Oh, just great," I thought. "I bet it's poetry."
In 30 years in this business, people are always giving me their poetry, expecting that I will rush back to the paper, fire up the press and print it in the next day's edition.
It is not as though I have anything against poetry. Quite the contrary. I love poetry. Specifically, I love good poetry. One of the sad lessons I have learned over 30 years is that there are few things that more people do -- and few people do well -- than writing poetry. Most of it is just plain awful.
So I sat there at my table, politely waiting for the gentleman to return with his collection of poems.
As he approached, I saw in his hand a yellow 11x18 card. It didn't look like poetry, I thought. It looked more like a menu. Maybe he had opened a restaurant in his retirement years, I thought.
But when he handed it to me, I saw it was neither poetry nor a menu.
Printed across the top, in large type, were the words, "Success and Happiness Guidelines."
Below, in three columns, were what I judged to be about 60 gems of wisdom.
"It took me 60 years to put this together," he said as he walked away, smiling.
It turned out there were 75 guidelines on the page. At the bottom, the man's name was printed, although with a disclaimer that the material came "from experience and various sources."
Some of the tips were simple, almost to the point of something you would take for granted:
"Call your mother and father."
"Don't drink much alcohol." (Now you tell me!)
Others were delightful:
"If you hoe your own row, then help the next on theirs. You'll get more from the second row than your own."
"Don't discuss business in elevators. You never know who might overhear you."
"Street musicians are a treasure. Stop for a moment and listen. Then leave a small donation."
"Don't waste time learning the tricks of the trade. Learn the trade."
Some were inspiring:
"Never underestimate the power of forgiveness."
"Choose a charity in your community and support it generously with your time and money."
"Love nature and protect the environment."
"Share good news."
Some were simply wise:
"Read the Bill of Rights."
"Learn to listen. Sometimes opportunity knocks very softly."
"Never deprive someone of hope. It might be all he or she has."
As I read the accumulated wisdom of his 60 years, it occurred to me that maybe all of us could benefit from putting together our own lists, not just to share with others but to be used as a reminder.
What are the truths that could be gleaned from my life story thus far? I started to make that list:
"If you have been drinking heavily and notice blue flashing lights in your mirror as you drive home, remain calm and remember: You can usually outrun 'em."
Upon further reflection, maybe these lists -- like poetry -- are better left to experts.
Slim Smith is a columnist and feature writer for The Dispatch. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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