DP Weekly Challenge – “Tell us about a character in your life.”
I met him playing golf. He joined us to make a foursome. As I recall, he was slender of frame and the sleeves of his golf shirt revealed his forearms. For a man who had such a lasting impact upon me, it was not his appearance, but his words that remain with me. We were walking the course that day, which allowed for conversation. Without question, I am a crummy inconsistent golfer with a love for the game that comes more from the ambiance, environment, being out in fresh air and spending hours with friends, rather than the application of the club to the ball, which is to say the trajectory of my ball is just as likely to veer into and off of trees, into sand traps or overshoot the hole multiple times. The courteous thing is to take a penalty by picking up your ball and dropping it. I saw it as cheating – I had played poorly and had to take the hit on my score. Initially, as everyone does, the stranger tried to advise me on how to play. I don’t think I was gracious in my response – not rude, per se, but not welcoming. Time passed and he asked, “You are a rebel, yes?” I nodded shortly, thinking I knew what was coming. He smiled gently at me, “That is a good thing, to be a rebel.” Well, as much as I hate unsolicited advice, I love praise… He said nothing more re my playing until we had finished and were saying goodbye. It was just the two of us off to the side. As he shook hands with me, I caught sight of his forearm, tattooed with a number still readable after all these years. He may have held my hand, but what I remember is what followed, “Before you go, if I may, I’d like to tell you a story…” I nodded.
“You may have noticed this number on my arm. Do you know what it means?” I nodded again. He continued, “I was a rebel, too. I came from a wealthy family of Jews who had strong views of what I should be when I grew up. They were not pleased that I loved creating with my hands and enjoyed building things, especially furniture…they wanted more for me, but I persisted.” He paused to be sure he had my attention or maybe in remembrance of his family. “I am the last surviving member of my family. They were all killed in the camps.” He took a breath. “The reason I survived was because the Germans needed Jewish prisoners who had certain skills, and oddly, perhaps, one of those was re-upholstery of furniture and I had that skill… it served me well, my being a rebel. We have that in common, you and I. But,” he smiled gently at me, “you have told me you see it as cheating to take a tiny penalty versus how many true strokes it takes for you to finish the hole. ” He squeezed my hand. “It is okay to follow the rules when they work on your behalf, as much as it is to take responsibility when those same rules penalize you.” He smiled, his eyes filled with hard won wisdom and light. “Will you give that some thought?”
I never saw him again, but later wondered if God had sent a Guardian Angel to tap me on the shoulder and say listen up, kid.