We had a visitor to our home the other day. That’s interesting in and of itself, as we live at the edge of the map. We’ve gotten accustomed to long periods of solitude. Our younger son lives with us and attends college entirely online. He has never set foot at the college he attends. He attended high school entirely online. The high school was technically a public school, but of the charter variety. Since it enrolled students from the entire state, I guess, also technically, my spare heir was the valedictorian of Maine. He’s on the President’s list at the university. Someone gave him an A- once, so he doesn’t have a 4.0. Oh well.
Back to the visitor. He is approximately the same age as my son. He’s German. He’s lived most of his life in Brussels, Belgium, however, because that’s where his parents work. He was the most exceptional young man I’ve met in a long time. I’ll list some reasons why you might think I think he’s remarkable, to put you off the scent, and then tell you the real reason he was extraordinary.
He’s nineteen years old, and traveling alone around America. He’d been living in Ecuador, of all places. He was teaching music for a job. He’s a classical pianist. I’m not sure how well he plays, but he apparently plays well enough to teach it in another hemisphere. He told us he selected Ecuador for his temporary digs because he wanted to surf there. He’s been all around touring schools he might attend, mostly. He recently was given some sort of red carpet treatment at MIT in Cambridge, Mass. He was visiting with one of our neighbors, who hosts exchange students. This young fellow’s older brother spent a year here attending the local high school. I remember him fairly well. He is a nice kid. So is his little brother, our guest.
He came over and we exchanged pleasantries in English and German. I can say hellohowareyoucomeoninwelcome-whereisthebathroomwhereisthelibraryilostmysuitcase and several swearwords in German, or Italian, or Spanish, or French, and about half that in Russian. But that’s about it. He was gratified that anyone even tried to speak any German to him, or more accurately, at him. He speaks German, of course, and English, and French, and Spanish well enough to teach in Ecuador. He told us that he learned his Spanish in school in Brussels, so the Ecuadorians thought he talked funny because he spoke Spanish with a French accent. He sounded kinda posh to them. He was the first person in a very long time that was both tall enough and polite enough to look me directly in the eye while speaking to me. Since both our guest and my son are musicians of some sort, they went off together and they looked at my son’s FL Studio setup. You can make electronic music with it, and my son does. A lot.
Then we all had dinner together. My wife described him as the perfect Italian woman’s dinner guest, one she’d never had at our table, because he ate everything put in front of him, and several things behind him, too. He had four or five giant helpings of the pasta casserole, a bucket of (our) house salad, half a loaf of garlic bread, four homemade chocolate chip cookies, and a dish of ice cream.
And no word of exaggeration, he spoke to us in faultless, sophisticated English for two and a half hours until he finally paused over an English word he didn’t know: tapestry. He described the item as a “rug for the wall”, and said “tap.. tap…” before I helped him, so he was pretty close even for a miss. He was a very interesting conversationalist. We talked about all sorts of things. The reason he wanted to say “tapestry” was because he’d seen the actual Bayeux Tapestry, and knew all about the Norman invasion of England, and lots of other things I like to keep on cobwebby shelves in the back office of my brain. That’s a rarity for me as well. There are only a handful of people I can talk to, past pleasantries. I’m kind of a jerk, and have offbeat interests for most folks. He was a perfectly well-adjusted, intelligent, handsome, educated, athletic, friendly person. I’ve since learned that he’s going to study physics at the University of Edinburgh next.
Now I’m going to pull the rug (from the floor, not the wall) out from under you. None of this is what made him extraordinary to me, although it was all pretty remarkable. The one, single, solitary thing that made him literally sui generis is this: A nineteen-year-old human being was in my house for over three hours and not once showed me, or referred to, a cellphone, except to remark at dinner that we were smart not to give our son one.
If I found a unicorn and a diplodocus eating my hostas while we waved goodbye from the porch to him, I would have just shrugged. You can’t compete with that.