The Best Man I Never Knew
The Best Man I Never Knew
I just said goodbye to one of the best men that I never knew. We met, as we so often have, in passing. It is one of the ironies of life that I have come to accept and to even be grateful for, we might have never met at all otherwise. We paused for moment to say those parting words which inevitably always come too late, the honesty complete and coming easily with the knowledge we will not have to follow through on it. I am leaving and the odds are that we will never meet again. It will be simpler that way, for both of us.
There are things that we never learn about strangers. It makes it far easier to bestow upon them the qualities we would like to believe they possess. For a minute our hopes and dreams can appear in the flesh and it is heartening to allow them do so. If I have yet to be disillusioned, I have become somewhat discouraged. The sort of man who I have dreamed of all of my life has yet to be a part of mine, even if one or two have come close. I can now add one more to that list. He affirmed it as we said our goodbyes.
The words we exchange now evade me, but the message was clear and I will take away from it all that I wanted him to mean by them. As with the qualities which I have decided that he has I am free to do this and he is welcome to do the same with me. Having only met him in passing I was uncertain as to what his opinion of me was. He was never forthcoming with anything more than brief and almost formal conversation, he being a married man, and professional as well. That served to heighten my respect for him but gave me no further clues. I felt that he was ok with me but nothing more and even wondered if he was all I thought him to be.
We said our goodbyes, briefly and honestly. I told him that it was a pleasure to have not had the chance to know him. He knew exactly what I meant by that and it was spoken with the deepest sense of regret. He in turn acknowledged me and paid me the highest compliment that I could have hoped for. He told me that he figured I would leave and that he thought that I had more integrity than most of the people that I was working with. He surprised me with that, as I felt the same thing about him. He went on from there and somehow managed to add that I looked a lot like Katherine Hepburn. Geez, he knows how to get to a gal, all in one breath!
After taking a moment to recover my composure, having been flattered beyond words, I returned the compliment. I told him, “You are the sort of man that I believe a man should be,” and I meant that. He responded in much the same way that I had, caught off guard by the complete honesty that can only be shared by two strangers, in that instant more intimate than many relationships that we have in our lives. We parted as friends. He thanked me and I thought I heard a quaver in his voice. There was the trace of a tear in mine. We broke the spell quickly.
He left me with an invite to visit him and his wife in their new home. They are both retiring from the Park Service. It was a long career, I am sure. I left him with an affirmation equal to the one that he gave me, the knowledge and understanding that we as individuals stand for something we both believe in and have remained faithful to. I am glad that we recognized each other and had the chance to share that. It was more than enough, though I walked away wishing for more.
When I was a young girl I developed image in my mind of what sort of man I believed a man should be. I drew that picture from the books that I had read and the passing glances of those broad shouldered and ruggedly honest hard working individuals who occasionally crossed my path. I have been fortunate to meet them on occasion but it seems they were always married. The ones that are not have somehow lost their way, shadows of the man they could have been, alcoholics all. They are married to the one mistress I would never be able to compete with, as faithful to her as the others are to their wives. I have come to accept that and to provide myself with the resources that are necessary for my own happiness. I am a better woman for all that.
Solitude is a funny thing. It can be frightening if we allow it to be but it can also open many doors which we might never pass through otherwise. I was once a needy and co- dependant woman who required the affections of a man to feel secure. Imagine that! Because of that failing in myself I allowed my imagination to bestow qualities on men who in the end were undeserving of that. I devoted myself to trying to change them but was unable to do so. What I didn’t know then I have come to understand now. It was the only way that I would ever discover my own strengths. Adversity has a way of doing that. Now I see as well the discernment that I never would have developed. I just met one of the best men I have never known and had to question my own judgment before I was sure. I am so glad that I was right! There is one other blessing. If I was wrong I will never have the chance to know that. Neither will he.