Small World: Wisdom down the street

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

We needed the exercise. So, despite the summer-like heat, my wife and I went for a therapeutic walk in the neighbor-hood. It’s a quiet place, just over the District of Columbia border in Maryland. It’s a place of smallish houses shaded by oaks and maples, mostly dating from the 1930s when a developer built them.
We were speculating on what the area must have been like as farmland when we met a gentleman of our age coming from the opposite way and leading his white dog on an extendable leash. Sniffed, I greeted them and we soon learned that he, too, was retired and a longtime resident — although we bested him by 20 years in our 1936 house.
He surpassed us, however, in the richness of his working life experience. He — Alfred, known as Fred — was a China specialist. Quickly, we learned that he had worked in China for some years with the Treasury Department and for pri-vate firms. He happened to have left just before the Tiananmen Square uprising in 1989. “It wasn’t a democracy move-ment, despite what the press told us,” he said. “It was conflict between peasants and urban types, led by students.” And he went on to elaborate with memories of events from his time.
“You ought to publish a book. No one has given us that perspective,” I commented.
“I have. 500 pages. Too long, the publisher says. So I’m trying to cut it down into two books,” he replied.
And so the conversation proceeded rather aimlessly, sweeping up bits and shards of biographies. His divorced wife lived around the corner; his daughter was in a New England boarding school. I managed to get in a word on two on the Middle East via Syria and Washington’s responsibility for the loss of life there. He didn’t disagree, so I brought up Israel’s role in the region. Sill, perhaps too polite, no dispute. The striking thing about our talk was that there was nary a mention of Judge Kavanaugh nor even of President Trump. We ended with agreement on the best Chinese restaurant in the area and his advice on finding a parking spot to pick up carryout.
So what is the message, the point of this tale? There seem to me two possibilities:
1. There is none.
2. The discovery that everyone has a story, an experience that is worthy of attention. Open up to the wisdom that oth-ers carry with them and be instructed. And, from time to time, reflect on your own experience and wisdom. Then share it.
Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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