I get to meet a lot of new people every day. I’m either surrounded by teens when I substitute teach, or adults as I strike up conversations with people at the gym, dog park, or grocery store. Most of the topics include the weather, running, dogs, and occasionally writing. Lately, people have been telling me their stories. Since I prefer listening to talking, I enjoy hearing about their lives.

Not long ago, I ran into a man who told me how much he loved his granddaughter. I smiled. Listening to him tell about how he’d call her on the phone and how he bought her a dog reminded me of my grandfather. I was immediately brought back to my childhood when I couldn’t sleep the night before a fishing trip with him or all the times I spent swimming at his house. I knew from an early age how much my grandfather loved me. When I was sixteen and living with him, he’d turn off the TV as soon as I came home from school wanting me to sit and tell him about my day. Even though there wasn’t much to say there was comfort knowing he cared. Then when I was twenty-three, he asked me to move from California to Cape Coral to be near him. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. I spent the last two years of his life with him. Though he never said the words, I love you; he taught me what it felt like to be loved.

As this stranger kept talking, I soon realized why he was telling me all about his granddaughter. He was thinking about the things that were most important in his life because he had just finished two battles with cancer. He had been given six months to live, but after two surgeries was waiting to hear that he was cancer free. Love exuded from him. He talked a lot about the man he used to be and the man he is now. He wasn’t trying to teach me anything. I think he was still trying to understand it all himself. I asked him when he would get to see his granddaughter again. Soon. Just a few months. I knew she was a lucky young girl and that one day she would grow up, look back and remember the man that loved her.

My grandfather told me when I was a teenager that I should be a freelance writer.  He died before I ever began to think of writing as a career. He understood me before I understood myself. Maybe that’s what makes grandparents special. Some know they will never get to see their grandchildren grow into adulthood. This understanding makes them recognize what’s important like spending time with those we love and imparting words of wisdom rather than words of constant correction. The little things just don’t matter. Love takes center stage.

I said goodbye to the stranger not knowing if I’d ever see him again. Sometimes people come into our lives for only a brief moment, yet their impact can spark a flame that lights the way to understanding. The man reminded me of what it felt like to be that little girl who was adored by her grandfather. He reminded me that love is what’s most important in life.

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