It was November 5, 2015 and I was in a bad mood. It had been a tiring year because of studying and some very long and painful family problems. They could have thought that home affairs would get better, but about university studies, I had a tough time ahead. I was exhausted and, as usual when I am tired and I think of the incoming efforts, I was a little teary.
Like every morning, I was on the train and looked out the window. We had just arrived in Bologna and a gentleman sat in front of me. The train left and I turned towards the window, but my sad thoughts were immediately interrupted by the gentleman, who asked me if the train stopped at Imola. I answered yes, perhaps somewhat abruptly, and turned back to the window, ready to wrap myself in the silence of my tiredness.
Then, suddenly, this gentleman leaned forward and said ” Smile “. I turned in disbelief and looked at him questioningly, as if to ask him if he had told it seriously or I had just imagined it. But no, he had said it seriously and thus began one of the most beautiful and enriching conversations of my life.
He started talking about happiness, about how it wasn’t something that happens but something that you have to be able to build and therefore, even if I was sad for ten reasons and only had five to smile, I must focus only on those five. We create happiness first of all within us and therefore it is useless to struggle to find it, even because life gives you exactly what you need at the right time, when you will be able to treasure it in the best possible way. It had happened to him with his wife: he had a job travel in Southern Italy and, before leaving, he frequently discussed by e-mail with the site manager. Then they met, they went to dinner more as a joke than anything else and, from that time, they have never separated. It was the greatest gift of his life and it came just by chance, exactly when he was ready to welcome it. He asked me to think of something that made me happy and I replied “my family ”. He told me that happiness did not come from having a perfect family but from being able to build a deep and prosperous relationship with every one of them. That happiness had not happened by choice; I had built it. And, even if I was going through a tough time, I had to try to keep peaceful because sooner or later everything passes. This knowledge was taught us by Ancient Greeks, with the famous aphorism ” πάντα ρει ” (” panta rhei “), which means that everything flows and nothing remains unchanged. As I spoke, he corrected me every time I said ” but “, ” however” and ” if” since they are words that lead nowhere and therefore I should have learned to use them as little as possible when talking about my desires. He told me always to defend my first right, the right to happiness.
The conversation lasted about twenty minutes in all, maybe even less, but it was one of the most beautiful and magical gifts that life has ever given me. He left me a deep and sincere message and he gave me a smile in a moment when I just wanted to be alone in my sad thoughts. He taught me that a smile is the best way to bring light in us, which sometimes is just everything what it takes to make the potential in ourselves blossom and that is just waiting to be expressed.
Since then, I have always tried to be open to conversations with unknown people. Sometimes it is from people whose names you may never even know that the most profound and meaningful reflections come, which could give you unexpected and perfect moments. Because maybe life really gives you what you need at the right time and I needed that chat, precisely that day. It was the first of a series of meetings with unknown people who told me a little about their life-stories and certainly enriched my heart and fuelled my optimism and curiosity.
He was a Buddhist monk, with blue and serene eyes, like the sea. I forgot to ask for his name.