Initially, my reaction was to avoid him. A lapsed Catholic, I didn't want to get into a discussion of my issues with the Church. "But you don't understand," he said, sitting beside me at the dinner break one day. "I'm in a period of my life when I'm questioning so much. I really would like to talk with someone who has questioned, too." With our questioning, our doubts, our stresses in working full-time while taking on a demanding graduate program, we became fast friends. In our classroom clinical exercises, Joe showed promise of being an excellent therapist: he listened, remembered, encouraged, was down-to-earth, used humor appropriately and cared deeply. Although he ultimately decided to transfer to the non-clinical program to become a school counselor, we still met for dinner breaks. On graduation day, we went out for a celebratory dinner together with our families.
Perhaps those challenges are not the worst nightmares of old age after all. Maybe there is more to fear from what I see from some other peers: pettiness, boredom, selfishness, bigotry, unkindness or complacency.
I don't know if I would be as gracious as Ralph Ver Ploeg if I found myself working the drive-through at McDonald's or as kind and giving as Joe if I found myself homeless. But the lessons they can teach on savoring an unlikely opportunity, counting blessings, living with kindness and gratitude and love every day are priceless.