Winter break, 2017.
San Francisco had been a mixture of chance discoveries and checks off a list of acclaimed attractions. One of our planned stops was the California Academy of Sciences, and while the museum itself was more than impressive, as it encompassed a planetarium, indoor rainforest, and aquarium, the moment that highlighted my whole experience occurred before we began exploring the vastness of the museum. As we stood outside peering at the ticket prices and sneaking peeks inside, an elderly man appeared before us.
“Are you two trying to get into the museum?” He asked, his finger slightly raised in the direction of the museum entrance. I hesitated for a moment, perplexed and startled by both his appearance and his question.
“Yes,” I replied.
“I’m a member. I can take one of you into the museum for free,” he explained.
Half-expecting a catch, some sort of negotiation fee, we both remained standing there, wordless.
“So who will it be?”
Salman and I exchanged a quick look.
“I’ll go,” I piped up. I walked with him through the member’s entrance, where a lady was passing out “member” stickers. The old man passed me a sticker, and after a moment of thought, I promptly stuck it on my phone.
“This museum is great,” he commented. “It’s a pity it’s so expensive.” And indeed it was. Everything in San Francisco was, really.
When we entered the museum, we waited for Salman to enter. The old man gave me an overview of the museum – “You must go up all the levels of the rainforest first! Then you can take the elevator to splash down into the aquarium!” – as he surveyed the area with a practiced eye. As he spoke, I took in his blotchy red skin, the white hairs growing about his beard, his glasses that hung on his nose slightly below his glistening eyes, his blue winter hat, and his tapestry scarf. He explained his favorite exhibit to me, the leafy seadragons of the aquarium, and whispered that they were simply magical, something out of a “Midsummer’s Night Dream.” When Salman arrived, we introduced ourselves and found out that his name was Ron. Then, he wobbled away on his cane.
The old man’s simple gesture put a light in my entire day; Ron’s small gift of kindness and generosity grazed every crevice of my heart.
The sticker I received that day is now frayed and peeling off my phone, but the memories of that day will remain with me always.