I don't know about you, but oftentimes I wonder-- who am I to be giving advice?
What have I done to deserve the right to share stories with people... to teach lessons to people... to be completely and utterly vulnerable with people?
But if I have learned nothing else from blogging, coaching, and counseling, I've learned this:
No matter where you are on the proverbial "road of life" there will always be someone ahead of you, and there will always be someone behind you. There will always be something you can learn from the person in front of you, but in the same way, there will always be something you can teach to the person behind you.
No matter where you are on the road of life, there will always be someone who can teach you and someone you can teach.
You just have to be open to the opportunity.
Because, sometimes, some of the best advice comes from the most unexpected sources.
There has been no better example of this than a story that my friend, Ben, shared with me recently. Today, I'll be featuring Ben's story in the hopes that it inspires you to share your story, because trust me we all have stories that are worth sharing.
So here we go!
A few years ago while I was still in college, my brother Aaron and I both had two weeks off between semesters. He would soon drive up from Austin, and I from College Station to our parent's house in North Texas. We'd been kicking around the idea of a road trip of some kind. Our ambitions started out modestly enough; a hiking trip in Oklahoma. Then Colorado entered our realm of thought. Finally, we doubled down on Montana.
So at 8 in the morning with a truck bed half full of tents, packs, sleeping bags, cooler, and groceries, we set out for our great western adventure.
By lunchtime we had a hitch hiker riding between us on the bench seat of Aaron's regular cab Chevy. With Aaron and me in the 6'5" to 6'7" range and around 240 lbs each, I'm sure our new friend felt well protected! We dropped him off in Amarillo where he thanked us in kind and waved us off as we pressed on, wide eyed and filled with wanderlust. Such was the tone set for our adventure quest.
Now I'll fast-forward to day two where we were west-bound across Montana, and making a pitstop at a McDonalds in the town of Columbus.
Now we were just camping out in our truck bed wherever we would find ourselves at nightfall, so the purpose of this late afternoon stop at Micky D's was to brush our teeth and just kind of spruce up a bit before finding a spot to bed down. We were road warriors after all and this is what you do!
While Aaron was in the restroom I spied an man of about 60, clad in worn in rancher clothes, and eating an ice cream cone. I approached and asked him if he knew of any place nearby to camp. He knew a couple of campsites, told me where they were, and warned me not to have any fires due to the statewide burn ban. I had noticed smoke in the air so from there we got to talking about different wildfires, the drought, etc, and I told him we were college kids from Texas just out seeing the sights. Then, it was my turn to make use of the restroom.
When I came back out, there was Aaron and the same gentleman wrapped in conversation.
His name was Leo and the three of us stood there just conversing for several minutes. When it was about time to head out, Leo said "Well you can try either of those campsites though they may be full this late I the day. Heck, you seem like good guys. I've got an 8000 acre ranch about 10 miles out of town. If ya want, y'all are welcome to come camp anywhere out there."
Aaron and I looked at each other for a second and didn't hesitate. "Ok!" we said in unison.
So we followed Leo's old gray Dodge duelly down dusty gravel roads until we came to his old farmstead. Kind of a run down, "bubble gum & bailing wire" operation, it was apparent that Leo was running this entire ranch on his own. Still, it had charm we thought. Surrounding the farm was an endless 360 degrees of the same wild Montana you see in films like "A River Runs Through it," only the movies obviously don't compare to the real thing!
Leo showed us around for a few minutes. He actually even had a guest house he offered us, but we knew we wanted to camp under the stars that night.
Then he said, "Well, I'm going to head to the bar, meet up with a few friends, and have a beer. Y'all are welcome to go hike around and make camp, stay in the guest house, or you're also welcome to come with me."
"Well... heck, we'll go with you," we decided. So Leo opened his garage, and there standing in it was a 1920 Model T Ford.
That's when excitement started to shine in Leo's eyes! He told us all about how he found it, got it running & restored it himself.
He said, "I've got about as much money tied up in this thing as you'd have in a nice 4-wheeler and I think this is more fun. Ready to ride?"
So with Leo driving, Aaron riding shotgun, and me in the rumble seat, there we were; two brothers hitting the road without a plan in the world, serendipitously finding ourselves two days later riding at top speeds of 25 mph through the rural Montana countryside in a Model T Ford with an old rancher named Leo. It was like we were living out "Legends of the Fall" only... with less dying.
We knew in that moment that our whole trip was already a huge success. The little bar was in Reed Point, just about 3 miles from Leo's ranch. The Yellowstone river cut right through town and rushed below an old truss bridge as we crossed it in the Model T.
We had a couple of beers with Leo and a few other rancher pals of his.
"Looks like you got yourself a couple bodyguards there, Leo," one of them said as we walked in the swinging doors.
Leo gave a couple tourists a ride up and down the street in his Ford and he gave them the same spiel about the car that he gave us. He was proud of the Model T! Also an entire truckload of Chickasaw Indian fire fighters were dropped off at the bar, where shots and slots were of primary interest to them, we noted. Before too long, Leo, Aaron, and I were headed back to the ranch in the Model T. Aaron and I camped under one of the most star-filled skies we'd ever seen that night.
Without prying, we'd gathered from bits of conversation that Leo had gone through a rough divorce, had family in town with whom relations were strained, and was on his own with the ranch.
In the morning, we helped Leo tend to some ranch chores. This old guy had over 60 miles of barbed wire fence to maintain all by himself! So we rode fence lines with him in his truck, chased loose cattle off the road and back through the holes in the fence, patched the holes, and also checked water troughs... all in the great WILDS of Montana! We felt like genuine ranch hands. Perhaps this help was Leo's plan all along when he sized us up at the McDonalds, but we were beyond happy to do such work in such a place.
Around 11 am we were getting ready to head out. While gathered around and leaning on the bedrail of our truck, Leo was pointing out the best route on our roadmap to get to Yellowstone National Park.
Leaning around the bedrail, it was about that time to shake hands and say our goodbyes when Leo paused and said, "Well... If there are any parting words of wisdom I've got for you boys, it's this..." Heck yes! Leo was going to give us parting words of wisdom! This wasn't going to be just a casual nice-to-meet-you. We listened up! Leo continued, "Right now, you boys are working on your educations and that's great. You're going to find work, careers, etc and that's a big part of your life. But... boys, the NEXT big thing in your life is going to the woman you marry. She's going to become at least HALF your life... that's AT LEAST! So trust me, it doesn't matter if she has a six-figure income, or super-model looks. No, what matters is this. Does she have a good heart? Boys, you each go find you a good woman with a GOOD heart..." Then he paused. "Whatever you do, don't go marry no evil bitch."
The poignance of the moment Leo had just created filled the sunny, crisp, morning air like the aroma of fresh brewed coffee. We knew Leo was speaking from his own experience. Our parting was with a hearty thanks, laughter had by all, and firm handshakes. Aaron, nor I, have ever seen or spoken with Leo since, though I have tried to look him up several times. His open generosity gave us an awesome experience, and left a lasting impression on our hearts. Also, his sage advise has kept us "evil bitch" free to date.
Thank you Leo, for your friendliness, and may this story serve as one small testament to your presence on this earth!
Thanks for sharing your story, Ben.
Now, it's your turn!
1. Have you ever met had the opportunity to learn from a stranger?
2. Have you ever been that stranger?
Share your story in the comments below!