red hats, full hearts

On a walk earlier this week, I chatted with an older man perched on the fold-out bench he had pulled down from the back side of his walker. It was the first sunny afternoon in a long spell and I was stretching my legs after several hours at my laptop. I spied the man from the curve at the top of the hill. He was sitting in the sunshine, eyes shaded by a bright red baseball hat. I want to think that I noticed him first – a neighbor, perhaps – out for an afternoon stroll. But it was the hat that caught my eye, its familiar color inviting foregone conclusions and conversations foreclosed. I make a habit out of talking to most people I encounter and this man proved no exception. As I got closer, I noticed that the hat in question was not – in fact – proclaiming greatness of any kind, but rather promoting a local auction house in a nearby town. Everything is not always as it seems. Sometimes, a hat is just a hat.

When I approached, I made the kind of polite small talk built for strangers. We began with the weather and advanced quickly to our respective ages. Me, 39. Him, 83. We didn’t exchange names, but I did learn that he and his brother were born just under two years apart, their birthdays separated by days. I can also tell you that the man’s mother was born in March. Our conversation didn’t last long, and beyond bonding over the fortune of a shared March birthright, we didn’t get very far. But in the exchange of common pleasantries, I was reminded of how close we sometimes need to get to see beyond our own assumptions. Red hats and full hearts, friend. And room to grow, always.