One sunny Sunday lunchtime, I ate lunch at the Convent Gallery in beautiful Daylesford. Life intervened and I stepped away from the table momentarily.
As I came back from the bathroom and was walking to where I was sitting, looking like a tourist in my jeans, “street shoes” and baseball hat I saw him.
Now as I passed the tables full of people enjoying a Sunday lunch: affluent couples on double dates dining, men purposively and happily enjoying solitude, a latte and thick weekend papers and gossiping women eating soup, there was one table which stood out.
Which captured my attention, my gaze, which almost made me gasp.
That was him. A stranger wearing a hat.
He stood out like a person in colour among a room full of 1950s black and white television.
At first glance I didn’t even notice what he was wearing, I noticed his eyes. They were alive.
Now I’m going to be very careful here. All writers need to be when they start throwing phrases this like around, “his eyes were alive”, “her eyes sparkled.” I’m conscious that I’m entering Cliche Territory, a dangerous place which can suck you in like a vortex: where everything becomes meaningless and stolen from other people.
But hear me out, because it’s important. I need to tell you about this stranger.
His eyes were lively: deep brown and penetrating they gazed around the sunny cafe like they had the first right to be there. They weren’t conflicted, weren’t averting: simply sparkled underneath his bushy black eyebrows like that was that and all there was to it.
He looked at ease; with himself, with life, with the fact he was sitting by himself.
A man enjoying a Sunday lunch by himself: that’s hardly anything remarkable, is it?
Yet, his eyes! As they gazed around the restaurant they seemed to shine light on peoples’ insecurities and thoughts and maybe challenge peoples’ souls with confronting assails like:
“Hey you. Are you genuinely at peace? Are you content? Are you worried about what other people think about you? Are you hiding your love and passion and freedom for the sake of other peoples’ expectations?”
Done in not an arrogant way but mature.
It all sounds a bit cryptic, I know but you’ll see what I mean shortly.
Walking past him, I arrived back at my table.
My own soup had arrived and as I bent over it, spoon in hand, my companion whispered to me. “Look at that guy behind you!”
“Soon – not now!! – but in a moment, look behind you. Look at that man. Look at his hat. Look at what he’s wearing. It’s amazing, isn’t it.”
“Not now!!” he hissed and I ate some soup.
Then I turned around, as subtly as one can turn their body 180 degrees and crane their necks to curiously see this man so worthy of looking at.
What was so remarkable?
It was the same man, the man with the dark eyes who stared at people in the cafe.
As I walked past him, I’d only noticed his eyes and his leathered face, which looked like it had spent a lifetime working in the sun.
The man was wearing a huge brown hat, like Indiana Jones does. He was wearing a silk scarf and shirt and what looked like a leather jacket. No doubt, he dressed from another era.
Seventy years earlier in Argentina, a century ago in colonial Britain or as an understudy for Indiana Jones, set in the 1940s: any of these things seemed applicable when studying his style.
Suddenly my baseball hat and sneakers seemed silly. Suddenly everyone else in the restaurant seemed underdressed. Dressed for the future. Wearing the wrong thing.
It was this man, dressed in his historical garb, who seemed like the ‘true’ character of the setting, with everyone else just extras.
“It’s the clothes that maketh the man,” chuckled my companion.
I shook my head, “No,” I disagreed weakly, trying to find a more substantial argument to back up the superficiality of clothes but – temporarily – falling short.
Meanwhile the hatted stranger arose, paid his bill and strode outside, into the sunshine. He left behind him the ordinary restaurant scene and a lingering, intangible legacy. Somehow, he had inspired us all.
It was about more than clothes: it was about passion.
Beyond clothes which had a historical look about it, surpassing the fact that it was ok to not fit into the status quo and more than the notion of going against the “grain” of what fashion/weekend wear might dictate to be ‘normal’, if there was such an awful thing.
And then it made sense: that’s why his eyes sparkled with life.
It wasn’t so much an inclination for dressing well, it was a decision to go with his heart and do it boldly. To be an individual, to be the one who stood out.
To do the very thing we often hear quoted from Hamlet (and with good reason), “Above all else, be true to thine own self.”