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A letter to Jack

On my way to Manchester Airport, an elderly gentleman got on the same train on my heading to Preston, after a few minutes he came and sat down next to me. We politely said hello to each other and I noticed he had a really kind face but I didn’t think about it much more than that. I had my earphones in, and quite honestly was just willing the journey to go quicker and to be back in Berlin.

We’re all taught not to judge a book by its cover and as much as I think we all want to believe that we don’t when in reality we probably actually do a lot more than we initially think. On the other hand, we’re kind-of also ingrained to have these judgments within us, I saw an old gentleman who looked honestly quite frail and immediately offered both seats up, looked to see who he was with and wondered where he was heading all on his own?

I could tell from the first hello that he just really wanted to talk. I took my earphones out and we started to chat. I can’t even remember how the conversation started but he told me his name was Jack and that he was 85 years old. After a little while, (we were on the slow train!) I asked him if he was going anywhere nice -still surprised that he hadn’t got off the train and feared he was probably already a long way from home. His answer completely blew me away…’Oh, just Lanzarote today.’

After I’d picked my jaw up off the floor, I felt like such a fool. I’d completely judged Jack on his appearance and assumed his capabilities based on solely his age. From this point, I had a new found respect for Jack and was completely invested in his story. I mean…we all want to be heading off to Lanzarote on a solo trip at 85, don’t we!?

Jack really opened up to me about his travels and his life in general. He told me he travels to Lanzarote on a really regular basis now, about once every 2 weeks to keep his business going of selling tobacco abroad. (I’m still not 100% sure how legit this sounds, but hey, we’ll let it slide! Maybe I’m completely wrong again!)

We bonded over flying with Ryan Air and complained about public transport in the U.K. in comparison with that of our European better halves. And soon we were chatting as if we’d known each other a lot longer than 20 minutes!

At first people on the train around us looked at me sympathetically as if to say, ‘sorry you got stuck with the overly talkative old man’ but I loved it. Who talks to each other on trains anymore? It was so refreshing and I was getting the opportunity to meet someone, whose life path would never normally have crossed mine.

Jack quickly explained to me that he liked traveling a lot and that aside from younger family, not much kept him at home anymore. He spoke about the house he’d owned with his wife, Margret, the vast majority of his life, the moment he mentioned it I could already sense the change in his mood. I felt the pain in his voice as soon as he mentioned his late wife and it was so obvious the love he still had for her. It made me want to immediately reach out and message the most important people in my life and was a really sobering reminder that people need to be loved -and KNOW they’re loved- whilst they’re still here.

He also was extremely open with his political beliefs with me. We got onto the subject very naturally from the topics of working and studying abroad. He really empathised with people generations younger than him and recognised how challenging the next few years will be politically and knew that the effects would be extremely long-lasting.

He asked me where I was going, I replied that I was off to Berlin for a few days to catch up with friends and for some work commitments. He immediately said, half-joking, if I could find an old friend of his in Hannover. After a few minutes talking about his old friend and the fun the two of them had as they both met their future wives at the same time was again really moving. I could almost see some of his youth and the young man inside of him still.

Sweetly, his passion for driving also came through, he was proud that he’s never had an accident (that has been his fault!) and was thrilled to hear that I had taken it upon myself to learn to drive too! I know absolutely zero about cars but I was more than happy to listen to him waffling about all of his favourite cars and about some of the adventures he’d had in them.

As we both got off the train at the Airport, I helped him off with his case. He shook my hand, told me he’d been really happy to meet me and wished me all the best with my work and studies and said I was a lovely young lady. I was so touched with his words and knew I’d met someone really special.

So wherever you are Jack, in Lanzerotte or in Preston I hope you’re well and are looking forward to your birthday on the 10th Feb, if I remember rightly you’ll be 86? Stay wonderful, stay friendly and stay wise. You are such a charismatic gentleman with so much life.

Thank you for sharing a little bit of it with me, I was honored you shared it with me.

Aimée.

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