The wisdom of one word

Isn't it amazing how one person, sharing one idea, at the right time and place can change the course of your life's history? This is certainly what happened in my life. When I was 14, I was hitchhiking from Houston, Texas, through El Paso on my way to California. I was following my dream, journeying with the sun. I was a high school dropout with learning disabilities and was set on surfing the biggest waves in the world, first in California and then in Hawaii, where I would later live.

Upon reaching downtown El Paso, I met an old man, a bum, on the street corner. He saw me walking, stopped me and questioned me as I passed by. He asked me if I was running away from home, I suppose because I looked so young. I told him, "Not exactly, sir," since my father had given me a ride to the freeway in Houston and given me his blessings while saying, "It is important to follow your dream and what is in your heart. Son. "

The bum then asked me if he could buy me a cup of coffee. I told him, "No, sir, but a soda would be great." We walked to a corner malt shop and sat down on a couple of swiveling stools while we enjoyed our drinks.

After conversing for a few minutes, the friendly bum told me to follow him. He told me that he had something grand to show me and share with me. We walked a couple of blocks until we came upon the downtown El Paso Public Library.

We walked up its front steps and stopped at a small information stand. Here the bum spoke to a smiling old lady, and asked her if she would be kind enough to watch my things for a moment while he and I entered the library. I left my belongings with this grandmotherly figure and entered into this magnificent hall of learning.

The bum first led me to a table and asked me to sit down and wait for a moment while he looked for something special amongst the shelves. A few moments later, he returned with a couple of old books under his arms and set them on the table. He then sat down beside me and spoke. He started with a few statements that were very special and that changed my life. He said, "There are two things that I want to teach you, young man, and they are these:

"Number one is to never judge a book by its cover, for a cover can fool you. "He followed with, "I ll bet you think I m a bum, don t you, young man?"

I said, "Well, uh, yes, I guess so, sir. "

"Well, young man, I've got a little surprise for you. I am one of the wealthiest men in the world. I have probably everything any man could ever want. I originally come from the Northeast and have all the things that money can buy. But a year ago, my wife passed away, bless her soul, and since then I have been deeply reflecting upon life. I realized there were certain things I had not yet experienced in life, one of which was what it would be like to live like a bum on the streets. I made a commitment to myself to do exactly that for one year. For the past year I have been going from city to city doing just that. So, you see, don't ever judge a book by its cover, for a cover can fool you.

"Number two is to learn how to read, my boy. For there is only one thing that people can't take away from you, and that is your wisdom. " At that moment, he reached forward, grabbed my right hand in his and put them upon the books he'd pulled from the shelves. They were the writings of Plato and Aristotle-immortal classics from ancient times.

The bum then led me back past the smiling old woman near the entrance, down the steps and back on the streets near where we first met. His parting request was for me to never forget what he taught me.

I haven't.