This week I did some early Christmas shopping. I know some of you are already finished and everything’s wrapped beautifully beneath your tree. I wanna let you in on a little secret – the rest of us don’t like you very much.
I’m that guy who’s out on the 24th and wrapping things minutes before the gift exchange, so I’m pretty proud of myself right now for shopping early. And as it turns out, it’s more fun without the panic and road rage I’ve grown so accustomed to.
I’d stopped for a quick bite in the food court when a distinguished man in his fifties approached and sat down at the next table. He was wearing an expensive suit with shoes to match and no tie. He seemed out of place in the food court, or at the mall for that matter. He was overdressed for shopping, and given the time, it was unlikely he’d come from the office. He struck me as the type who wears a suit just because he prefers to.
He took off his coat, sat down and settled in to eat. As he rolled up his sleeves, my preconceptions fell to the floor and gave way to curiosity. Each fold of his cuff revealed more of what turned out to be a sleeve of colorful and intricate tattoos covering his arms. I was so surprised. Right in front of me, he seemed to become a different person than he’d been just a minute earlier.
He looked up from his tray, caught me looking at his tattoos and graciously let me off the hook. “You getting much shopping done?”
“A little – I’m just starting.”, I said. “I’m sorry. You totally busted me…I was checking out your tattoos. I was surprised to see them on someone like you. But they’re really cool.”
“No problem. I get that a lot. And thanks. They remind me of some of the people and places I don’t ever want to forget.” He turned his arms over, so I could see the other side.
I asked him a couple of questions about them, and as he spoke, I could soon tell I was talking to someone who’d seen a lot of the world, lived a big life and had a lot to share. If he was into talking, I was into listening.
When I asked him about his work, he said, “My company is doing well. But in spite of that, I’m still living a pretty great life.”
“What do you mean?”
He ate a bite of his sandwich and said, “Most people don’t get this, and I learned it the hard way… Success and living a great life aren’t the same thing. You know? Success might hand you everything you ever thought you wanted… but nothing will keep you from your adventure more than chasing after comfort.”
Dang! It hit me like a rock. I could fill pages with how it resonated in me, but just read your own journal instead. You already get it. We work so hard to create a comfortable life, but most of us get chained up in the process. And once we finally do get comfortable, we wouldn’t possibly consider changing course because of all we could lose. We make most of our life choices based on mortgage payments, car loans, insurance, and our 401K.
Who owns what? What owns who?
How might our lives be if we weren’t spending so much of our time and choices pursuing a comfortable life?
“I’ve never followed crowds much”, he said. “It’s helped me in business, but even more so, it’s helped me in life… I’ve got some nice things, but they don’t have me. I want the adventure. I want the experience.” He pointed to his arms and said, “These are my stories, my greatest memories. This is my life.” Then, he pointed to his jacket draped on the chair next to him. “That’s just a suit.”
We talked a little while longer, and as I got up from the table to get back to my shopping, I introduced myself and said goodbye. “It was nice to talk to you.”
“Nice talking to you too”, he said, and as he reached out his hand to shake mine, I noticed a little open spot above his elbow.
“You’ve got a vacancy there.”
He smiled and said, “You never know where life is gonna take you”.
I didn’t get his name, but the man with the suit and the tattoos gave me my first Christmas present this year. He totally changed my perspective as I was shopping. And since then, the questions have lingered.
Am I pursuing adventure, or am I pursuing comfort?
Do I have stuff – or does stuff have me?