In New York City—it’s not every day that a stranger tells you that they have faith in you—or that they believe in you—or that they even want to sit down and chat with you—even for a few moments. I can attest to this—because I often try to sit down and talk to strangers.
So when all of this happened–on a Friday night in Union Square, you can imagine my surprise, and my joy over it.
The truth is, I wasn’t expecting to sit across from a man in the middle of the park. I had another hobby planned for the week, but upon discovering that the original hobby wasn’t going to happen, I decided to try something more relaxed, novel, and New Yorky—so I headed to the park, found a chess player who didn’t have an opponent, and sat down.
“Can we play?” I asked.
He rolled his eyes at me. “I guess.”
I wondered why he was so upset. I clearly hadn’t done anything wrong yet—except appear to be a novice who didn’t know the difference between a knight and…well a horse….
I sat quietly for another moment, hoping he wouldn’t ask me to leave.
“I’ve been waiting here for an HOUR for my friend. An HOUR. I HATE waiting,” he said as a distraught look overcame his eyes.
“I hate waiting too. It means people don’t value other people’s time. I’m sorry that happened to you.”
He rolled his eyes again.
“I mean it,” I said. “Waiting sucks.”
He smiled. “Waiting does suck.”
“What’s your name?” I asked.
“Good. David, my name’s Libby. Nice to meet you,” I smiled and held out my hand. He shook it.
“How much is this lesson going to cost you?” He went on.
I smiled. “I’m not sure, but there’s an ATM over there…and”
“Now we’re talking.”
And then before I knew it, he was teaching me the first eight moves to make on a chessboard. He was lifting pawns…sliding knights…building a moat—I mean…setting up opposition. Let’s just say he was doing his thing.
“This is how I teach my 8 year old son. You got it? Good. Now show me the first 8 moves you can make on a board.”
I went to move a piece.
“No,” he sternly objected. “Not right.”
Reminder to self—don’t pick an intellectual hobby when you’re looking for something calm.
I tried again.
“Good. You’re a quick learner.”
Now try another move…
“Can I tell you something?” I stuttered.
“I am playing chess tonight because I am doing this project, where I try one new thing a week—for the entire year…”
“Well then let me ask you something,” He said, shifting the attention, and smiling. He lowered the volume of his voice.
“Have you ever slept with a black man before,” He began to laugh hysterically—as did I, before responding—“Not this week.”
We laughed together and I told him he should try stand-up.
“Naw…not for me.”
“Well then come to a show sometime,” I responded, as I told him that I do stand up.
“You do stand-up” he said. And we continued to converse while I slowly (kind of) learned some new tools for the next time I sat down in a chess match.
And just as we were finishing our lesson, one of his friends came along.
“Man—meet Libby—she’s a comedian. She’s going to be famous one day. I am going to see her on Comedy Central…she’s funny. She’s going to be a star. People aren’t going to believe me when I say I know her.”
I don’t know what made him say this—I don’t know what energy was in the air—but I do know it made me smile—a big smile. He didn’t even know me—and he believed in me.
Let’s just say—he didn’t check a mate that night with his joke—but he did indeed open my eyes—and my heart.
The truth is, when a stranger has faith in you—after only moments of knowing you—it is an incredible feeling—and it makes you wonder how you’ve ever doubted yourself.