Advice from the 12th Floor

Beauty is where you most expect it

Jayde Atchison // Columnist

On a warm August night last year, I took the elevator down to the garden to get some reprieve from the stifling air that refused to circulate in my unit. I wasn’t expecting a crowd, yet I was greeted by several neighbours trying to do the same thing. One man stood out among the crowd of young beer drinkers – a man in his 70’s, donned in his best plaid pyjamas, striking a match to light his hand-rolled joint. All around him were other neighbours captivated by the story he was telling.  

I soon learned his name was Richard, and he was the life of every party – a retired flight attendant with a technicolour history attached. Throughout the end of summer and into autumn, we would talk about places he had travelled, courses he took and the beautiful people he met along the way. I was surprised to notice that I had met a life coach when I was least expecting it. 

Richard loves to hold the stage, he often ends an inspiring soliloquy with “boy, I sure can talk – your turn!” with a loving chuckle at his unintentional performance. The first lesson I was given came during a time where I was unsure of my life, and felt stuck in a rut. Without even realizing how I was feeling or what he was doing, Richard told a story about visiting his friend in another province. On a particularly dreary day, he did not feel like exploring but his friend offered, “let’s go look for something beautiful” and that mindset brought them a wonderful day. 

That lighthearted tale, probably told in passing to connect to another person’s point, sparked something inside me. I began to start each morning by saying aloud, “I am going to look for something beautiful today”. I would go through my day and then at the end of each day I would write down something beautiful I had seen — someone holding the door open, a flower I hadn’t seen before, a friend dropping off food from their family dinner because they knew I didn’t have a holiday dinner with my family. I was starting to see life with a brighter, more loving outlook. 

This isn’t to say Richard sees life through rose-coloured lenses. He has felt incredible grief, and has days where his bedroom is the only place he sees in a day. Just like everyone else, he goes through the normal ebb and flow of emotions. However, he allows himself to go through the tough moments, but keeps in mind that there are beautiful things to look forward to. 

On the day my grandmother passed away, I sat in the communal area beside my apartment to get some air while I cried and processed the loss. Richard came down to enjoy a couple puffs of his joint, and when he saw the grief on my face he asked to hug me and decided I needed a distraction. He allowed me the privilege of hearing about his partner of ten years, John, who passed away over 30 years ago. Richard let me know that he still speaks to John’s spirit, lights a candle for him and believes that John brings miracles into his life even after all these years. 

His kindness and his patience while he allowed me to openly grieve solidified a connection I felt with this neighbour. The next time I saw him in the courtyard, I asked if he would be interested in going to dinner or sharing a glass of wine (his other indulgence). To my timid surprise, he was delighted with this suggestion. 

Along the beginning of our friendship journey, I was itching to take a leap into a new career path. Richard knew I had an interview coming up and encouraged me to ask for miracles, because the universe was listening. He said he would light a candle for me — a ritual that he has been practising for decades, one that he has seen create miracles through his positive energy. 

In the end, I got the job and Richard’s excitement for what this new company would mean for my life was infectious. A few months into my position I was able to take a trip to Quebec City in the dead of winter. I was to expect negative 30 and snow during my stay — not exactly the ideal vacation weather. The lovely man on the 12th floor reminded me to keep telling myself it would be a fantastic trip, and later left a note on my door wishing me bon voyage — that has stayed taped to the wall next to my door so each day I leave my house, whether for one day or a two weeks, I am reminded to make it a good journey. 

Richard lives with love and every moment is led with kindness, a straight tie and a state of grace. His story has inspired me to live with more intention, to say yes to more opportunities, and to act with love — even when someone may not have earned it. In his own words, “you grow old and either become cranky or wise, and years ago I chose to grow wise”.  

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