Kim said I was presented with a rare gift.
I got to hear somebody say something nice about me, and it wasn't at my funeral, a time when most people don't get to hear the nice things said about them. You know, because they're dead.
But this moment that happened to me seemed a little deeper, and it was certainly more affecting than I ever would have imagined. It's stayed with me for several days now.
It went something like this:
I was in the sauna after my daily two-hour workout at the YMCA. Usually, the sauna is a solitary place, but on this morning, there was another fellow in there, a young, mid-30-ish man I'd never seen at the Y before. I think there's a membership drive going on because new faces are cropping up everywhere in the fitness center. I figure that'll last about a month or so, after all those introductory memberships expire, and the place returns to normal.
Anyway, we struck up a brief conversation. It somehow came out in the moist heat that I'd worked at The Dispatch for 30 years, and blah, blah, blah. After a few more minutes, I got up to leave. I went to shake his hand and told him, by the way, that my name is Bruce.
His eyes lit up. I could see his wheels spinning hard trying to connect dots.
"Bruce?" he said. "At The Dispatch?"
"Yeah. I was the sports writer there for 30 years."
"Awww, man. I know you. You were good," he said, and if the conversation ended there, I would have left on Cloud 9. But he went on.
"The things you wrote about me, well, I think they helped me get a scholarship, because I messed up some things. But your stories really helped me.
"And not just me, but there's other guys, too," he offered.
My throat tightened. I was dumbfounded. I couldn't speak, and I was hoping the sweat on my face from the sauna camouflaged the tears welling in my eyes. I never saw this coming.
"I have to go," I croaked, and walked out of the sauna.
I never thought much about how my job at the paper affected people. I mostly thought of myself as a documentarian, writing those first drafts of history that showed up in newsprint every day. I mean, I was just writing about the games people play. This was so completely out of the ether. And yet, in a single moment, a total stranger seemingly justified my entire career.
I have two brothers who at certain points in their lives were first responders. They were the ones who helped people. My dad was a teacher, and then a minister. He helped people. I just wrote stories. I wrote to inform, and if I did it well enough, to entertain.
But now this person gave me something else to think about. What he said didn't alter my life, didn't turn me 180 degrees. But he did shift my axis of perspective a degree or two; perhaps it was a course correction.
I told my wife about this meeting, and I felt like Jimmy Stewart in "It's a Wonderful Life," where he got a chance to see how his life affected the people around him.
Kim was right. I was given a gift. It stays with me.
We all should have that experience...