I brought my kids to McDonalds last week to play. It was a rainy day, we had been vacationing like crazy, and I just wanted to sip my coffee in peace and read my Kindle while they trashed another place other than my house.
So, I sat in my booth with my feet propped up on the other end and dived into my reading. There was only one other girl there playing with my boys, and her grandfather sat in the opposite booth, watching her. I remember smiling at him, touched at the loving way he glanced at her, then went back to my book.
As a mom, sometimes I crave conversation in social areas when my children play. Sometimes I want to be left alone. That day, I wanted no words, no forced niceties, and a lot of silence other than my children’s screams. Screams of good, not bad.
But Fate had other plans for me.
The gentleman eased his way toward my booth, and commented casually on my boys and how nice they all played together. This forced me to be polite, and before I knew it, we were having a conversation. He confirmed he was the girl’s grandfather and had nine grandchildren. Curious, I gazed at his scruffy gray beard, beaten up ballcap, and denim overalls. He looked as if he belonged on a farm and had hard times. His manner was pleasant, his words well spoken, and I began to enjoy his easy talk and sense of humor. Before I realized what had happened, I was asking him general questions and to my amazement, found myself face to face with Forrest Gump.
Yes. Forrest Gump.
With an off the cuff manner, he related he’d been married for 50 years and his wife had been on the game show Jeopardy. Fascinated, I learned his wife was quite shy but brilliant with trivia. He arranged for her to go on the game show and she was a three time champion. His wife was in a convent when he met her, yet he knew immediately she was his true love. They eloped secretly so she wouldn’t be kicked out of the convent before she finished her studies, and they had six children together. He told me she was pretty much the best thing in his life.
Forrest worked at a blue collar company to support his family, and worked two other jobs on the side. He decided he had a great plan to institute courses at the company to help employees go further in their career with social skills and social psychology. He developed a business plan, approached the top guy, and began teaching. The program is now worldwide.
Now, as he began sharing the most amazing stories, my children would run over to me. I’d pretty much ignore them, kick them back to the playground, and ask Gump more questions. His life fascinated me because he took what he got and he made it great.
Isn’t that the best sort of character in life and in books?
We spent an hour chatting and I believe I was changed for the better after meeting this stranger. I hope I will run into him again.
The morale of the story? Characters are everywhere, ready to be used for our creative journey and to teach us every day lessons. They are unexpected and much more than what we see on the surface. Make sure the character you are working on in your book surprises your reader. Make sure in your daily activity to take some time to be surprised by people. Dig a bit deeper – it’s usually worth it. Even when I run into a grumpy person, I’m amazed at how an understanding smile and a listening ear can evoke the true reason for the behavior. Life is definitely not easy. But it can be extraordinary if we are looking in the right way.
Take some time to listen and the entire world may crack open to reveal its pearl.
Thank you, Forrest Gump. This one’s for you.