A Stoop Encounter

In response to: A Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget

Nearly 20 years ago my friend and I returned to his dorm building after a long long night out, only to discover we were locked out. With nothing better to do, we sat outside on the stoop and planned to chat the hours away until 6am when the doors would reopen. Before the dawn came, a man in his 80s almost walked past us. He stopped to ask for directions somewhere, maybe to a church. After our half-hearted attempt at giving him directions, he asked us a question. Small talk. And then another. And then the questions turned into statements (“my daughter also went to art school”), and then into short stories, then long stories. My friend and I — having nothing better to do at this early hour, and each recognizing this man wasn’t looking for a sermon but an audience — kept listening.

The old man’s long stories turned into deeply personal stories; of hunting deer with his father, of losing friends in the war… He went on and on, pausing occasionally to stare a thousand yards past us and let a patient tear make room for another.

An hour later, in a click, the man wished us a good day and went about his way. And with a click, the lobby door behind us unlocked, and we went on our way. We slept until noon and I mostly forgot what else happened the previous night, but I never forgot that early morning moment.

Those of us who are lucky to reach that age will surely have endless tales and thoughts to tell, and I hope we’re all lucky to find an attentive ear, whether from a stoop-sitting stranger or a taxi driver.