“You know what”, the old man bellowed, as he put aside his half-eaten sandwich. “I read ‘The Obituaries’ every morning. And I can’t help but notice all the folk in their twenties, thirties and forties. These people are missing out on the better half of a lifetime.”
Up to this point he’d mainly just been talking to himself. The owner never paid him much mind as long as he paid his bill at the end, and the regulars huddled over their morning coffees were far more interested in that wafting scent of bacon filling the room, than the ramblings of an old man. But that last point seemed to raise contention from a softly spoken voice at a booth nearby. A young girl, couldn’t have been more than 8 years old, pauses while drinking her strawberry milkshake, and asked something through the innocence of her age “But how do you know the second half of their life would be better?”
“Sweet child” the old man said as his lips betrayed a smile of pleasant surprise. If there had been a microphone to his skin, the sound would have been reminiscent of the screech of a leather sofa as a fairly rotund person took a break from the world. “Life is nothing but experiences. If they are not alive to have these experiences, then they are missing out.”
“But what if those experiences are all bad?” The girl replied, so quickly it was almost as if she knew his response before he said it.
“Bad and good are very subjective words my dear.” The old man said. But upon seeing the somewhat bewildered look on the girl’s face he continued. “Tell me about a bad experience that you once had”
By now several of the cafe’s patrons had tuned into their conversation, some subtly, others not so much. It would be false to suggest their attention had been removed from the caffeinated beverages before them, simply it was now shared between that and the exchange of two minds. The girl thought for a second. “My mother made me eat pickles once, I didn’t like them very much.”
The man let out a hearty laugh, rivalling that of the local shopping mall’s Santa Claus when he’s slightly licquored up. He reached for his sandwich and took a large deliberate bite right in front of the girl, chewing with a satisfied smile. He then proceeded to open the sandwich to reveal large portions of pickle covering the bread. “That, my dear, sounds absolutely delightful to me!” The girl turned up her nose in disgust.
“But more over, without that experience dear child, you never would have known if you enjoyed pickles or not. As with all things, whether the experience is a positive or negative one, the fact that you learnt something is more powerful than whether you enjoyed it. Did you know you would love strawberry milkshakes before ever trying one?” The girl shook her head “Of course not!” The man announced knowing full well he was no longer speaking to just one person. “That is the experience of life. Experience helps us grow and understand each other better. The more experienced a person is, the more they find the ability to relate to and help other people. Experience is infinitely more important than knowledge.”
The girl slumped a little in her chair, as if feeling a touch rejected. The man’s tone got slightly more serious, but still hopeful. “That is just one example, dear child. There are a few things that everyone would agree no matter how you look at it, are always bad.”
“Like war?” The girl curiously replied.
“War is absolutely an example. Possibly the ultimate example. There is nothing positive about the experience of war itself. Only death, destruction, misery, loss, terror… Things most people would never wish upon their worst enemies. But those who die in war time, those who die fighting for their country or fighting their own personal wars, those dying at the age of twenty, thirty, forty, losing the fight with life itself…” The man paused. Everyone in the room had stopped at this point, waiting for the end of his point “They miss out on the experience of peace that will inevitably follow…”
The old man picked up his hat, placing it softly on his head. He then reached into his pocket and pulled out an envelope. Handing it to the child he smiled one more time and then walked out into the wintery breeze.
The child opened the paper… “Until you have experienced everything that life has to offer, there will always be more to learn. More to love… Whether it be pickles, or strawberry milkshakes…”