The old man in the crowded hotel dining room was wearing dual hearing aids. He smiled and greeted me with a voice that was loud enough to change the migratory patterns of geese.
“You can sit by me!” he said, patting the seat.
Truthfully, I did not want to sit next to this loud guy—I didn’t want to sit next to anyone. But I had no choice. There were no available tables because the room was overrun with a girl’s soccer team.
Hell hath no fury like a girl’s soccer team attacking a continental breakfast bar.
The teenage girls were noisy, fidgety, and flinging complimentary fruit at one another, achieving incredible distances with their cantaloupe wedges.
The team’s adult chaperones wore weary looks on their faces, expressions which seemed to say: “Point me to the nearest liquor store, please?”
So I sat beside the old man. I was tired. I was uncaffeinated. I was not ready for a conversation with a stranger. I tried to send him a “leave me alone” message nonverbally. But the message was not received.
“Hey, pal, wanna hear something funny?” he said.
I looked at the man. I was definitely not in the mood for funny. Even so, I am the child of quiet evangelical fundamentalists; expressing disagreement is not in my repertoire.
“Sure,” I said.
He leaned in and said, “I have really bad gas.”
I stopped chewing. “I’m sorry?”
“Gas,” he said. “I have bad gas. I just had to tell someone.”
I looked around the room. This had to be a prank. Allen Funt and his camera crew must have been lurking around here somewhere.
But it was no joke. The old man told the entire story:
He was chaperoning his granddaughter to soccer camp. Last night, as soon as they checked into this hotel, he developed severe chest pains. He laid on his bed but the agony became worse so that he was nearly crying.
So he drove himself to the hospital and walked into the local ER, clutching his chest.
“I yelled for the nurses,” he said. “I told them to take me back to see the doc, I was having a heart attack. ‘Hurry,’ I said, ‘I can’t breathe!’”
Medical professionals rushed him back, stripped him nude, put him in one of those check-out-my-butt gowns, and attached him to electrodes. This was not a drill.
“I truly believed I was dying,” he said.
The first thing he did was call his wife. “I love you,” he told her. Then he called his kids and said the same thing. Then his granddaughter threw herself onto him and wept as they wheeled him away for more tests.
“I told everyone goodbye,” he said. “I just knew this was the end. My dad died from a heart attack, both my uncles, too. I’ve been waiting my turn for years.”
But anyone familiar with situational comedies knows what happened next. What happened, of course, was that the doctor walked into the exam room, brandishing charts, and told the old man that his heart was fine, his pains were due to “bad gas.”
“Gas,” the old man said to me. “You believe that? I got gas.”
The nearby soccer girls began to giggle.
We were interrupted when his granddaughter asked how he felt this morning.
“Well,” he said, “a little tired, to be honest. But mostly, I feel like I’ve been given a second chance. Last night I didn’t think I’d be sitting here today, I cried on the phone all morning with my wife, just grateful to be alive.”
Then he said, “I feel like this day is a real blessing.”
I tried to take it all in. This had been an extremely weird way to start my morning. Even so, the man was right. Life is brief, which is a particular message that keeps getting sent to me over and again from someone Up There. “Wake up,” the message is always saying. “Live while you still can.”
When we finished eating, the old man stood. We shook hands. I wished him well. He returned the favor.
I expected him to leave me with some wise words. Maybe something poignant about living life to the fullest, or never taking a moment for granted, or remembering to carpe the heck out of each diem.
Instead, the old man sincerely urged me to avoid lactose, then made a loud raspberry sound with his mouth. Whereupon 39 giggling teenage girl soccer players pressed their lips together and filled the room with exactly the same noise.
Life is but a vapor. Don’t let it pass.
Lyn Cogswell - March 3, 2022 7:43 am
Nice pun at the end there, Sean. And a sweet story…I’m counting my blessings and avoiding foods with lactose.
Heidi of the North - March 3, 2022 11:54 am
It’s like having breakfast with Gru and the minions.
Melanie - March 3, 2022 3:14 pm
@Heidi Perfect! I can so picture this 🤣
Mac - March 3, 2022 1:01 pm
God has to be directing the people you meet to you. No one meets as many interesting, sincere and funny people as you do Sean! God bless you and all those you encounter.
Ann Marie Sasser - March 4, 2022 12:17 am
You may be right. My idea is that like Will Rogers, Kathryn Windham Tucker, Seinfield and others, Sean has the gift of looking at everyday people—their quirks, struggles, and values—and finding worth.
Frances L. - March 7, 2022 4:56 am
Mac, you might be surprised at how eager people are to tell you their stories if you listen (even when you don’t feel like it!) . And if you are interested you will hear interesting things!
Paul McCutchen - March 3, 2022 1:15 pm
I needed a laugh this morning….Thanks Sean……Hope the house is coming along.
jaystrings23 - March 3, 2022 1:30 pm
Sean, you may have discovered why our society is becoming more divided and preferring social distance: too much gas and too little sleep.
Stacey Wallace - March 3, 2022 1:53 pm
Thanks for the laugh,Sean. I needed it. Love to you and Jamie.
Tom - March 3, 2022 2:03 pm
Sean, you missed the analogy….life is but a vapor, and the harder you try to hold onto it, the more pain it causes. Since it must pass anyway, best to enjoy the passing while you can. Let ‘er rip! I enjoy your stuff, my sister turned me on to it, she turns 75 today, so Happy Birthday, Claudia!
Ruth Mitchell - March 3, 2022 3:12 pm
Love your line of thinking, Tom!
Larry Wall - March 3, 2022 7:44 pm
No, Tom, Sean didn’t miss it at all. He delivered it perfectly in the closing. You just missed the delivery.
Bonnie - March 3, 2022 2:27 pm
You just have to read the book of Ecclesiastes to get the full picture of the important things in life. Ecces. 11:10 “So remove grief and anger from your heart and put away pain from your body because childhood and the prime of life are fleeting.” The best way to live is to honor God with no regrets in life because ” vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, all is vanity.”
I’m so glad it was only gas….
Sarah - March 3, 2022 3:43 pm
Susie Flick - March 3, 2022 4:00 pm
This totally reminds me of my Dad, gone from this world since 1997. We were very close and he always felt comfortable talking about anything with me. One day we were outside chatting and he said “I had a weighty poop today!” I guess I should said – that’s great – high five! I just smiled and then hugged him. Wish I could hug him right now.
🇿🇦🇿🇦 Norma Den - March 3, 2022 6:55 pm
I needed a good laugh too, thanks. My Dad died in 1988 but had for many years been troubled with loud gas,,,,,,,, as his hearse drove off from the chapel there was a sudden fierce blast of wind shaking the trees & I felt a frisson of fear, until one of my brothers said, typical Dad, having the last word. Turned a solemn, sad occasion into bursts of laughter. Granny always said, Better out than in. Bless you.
Linda Moon - March 3, 2022 7:19 pm
Uncaffeinated, oh my! So, who would’a thunk this story would end on such a high note in your last two sentences, clever writer. Someone please make and market a wall-plaque of those words. I’ll buy one at the At-Home store if you do and hang it on a wall in my home. Thank you for passing the wisdom to us, Sean.
Martha Blsck - March 3, 2022 10:05 pm
Oh my heart, how you make my day better & better. “Life is but a vapor. Don’t let it pass.” The perfect quote. Words to live by. I would only offer this accompanying tidbit, “Life is b, let it ut a vapor. Don’t let it pass. But if it releives your heart, let ut go & hold your nose…….” badda bumpa da bump, bump!
MAM - March 3, 2022 10:23 pm
I truly had to laugh. I saw an old friend this morning, who told me he has bad gas, but the propulsion keeps him going. Thanks, Sean, for a second good laugh today!
MAM - March 3, 2022 10:25 pm
Why can’t I post? My message said: I had to laugh. I saw an old friend this morning and he told me he has bad gas, but the propulsion keeps him going. Thanks, Sean, for a second good laugh today!
Slimpicker - March 4, 2022 4:24 am
Sean, that reminds me of a old joke. What is the difference between humor and odor? One is shift of whit and the other is a whiff of s###!
Mary Lyon - March 4, 2022 3:26 pm
Wow, that is so funny! Great story. Pass it on.
CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 16, 2022 5:03 am