He’s the guy who among other things, taught me that on a cold night, two shots of tequila will keep you warmer than a cold beer leaving you free to shake hands with anyone all night long.
Though my drinking days are over, if I did, it would still be two shots of tequila because of what I learned from him that cold winter night.
At some point, we’ve all been enamored meeting someone like Stu. For me it was in a crowded bar, drinking and playing darts into the wee hours. Someone in our group knew him and called his name to join us as he entered the darkened bar with frosty breath from the cold night. He gestured a wave our way and headed to the bar. Even at a distance, he was quite obviously everything we were not. A beautiful specimen of a man both socially skilled and magnetic. Everything each of us secretly hoped to be.
Approaching our wayward group with stacked handfuls of half-filled glasses of bronze liquor, my second impression was either a very thirsty remarkably ambitious drinker or slightly OCD about glassware. I’d never done shots before that night.
He was introduced to us by name and that was when I first noticed his uncanny knack of noticing the unnoticeable. “Hey, Don, nice to meet you” was his greeting with a hug as he handed me two stubby shot glasses while regarding the form of my dart arm mid-throw as particularly good. His greeting, hug and comment were all one incredibly smooth motion. He knew how to meet someone anywhere and make them feel they were a newly welcomed guest in his own home. He spoke his words in an intentional, soul-piercing eye to eye vernacular and a shake with his free hand—the right one, of course–which was a remarkable act of balance in itself considering his left was still stacked with greeting shots for other new guests he had yet to meet.
Either Stu was the most astutely engaging person I had ever met to date or he was born with the last of a long discontinued gene, or both. He seamlessly joined our motley crew as if he’d already been there with us most of the night. He played darts like a pro, did shots like milk, spoke with ease and generally made everyone around him want to be him. If memory serves me, he was also wearing a kilt. Why? For some reason it didn’t seem to matter at the time but further underscored the engaging social confidence that seemed to drive his very existence.
We were all enamored with him, and all the more as we watched him repeatedly whip ass at Cricket, 301 and 501 for the next several hours with the style of a true gentleman. He cast an engaging spell that made each of us feel we were the winners. He was unstoppable in every way.
To this day, Stu and I remain friends. I threw him his 40th birthday party when he still lived in Vegas and he has since moved 3000 miles away. On Facebook we still follow and like each other as he now lives a charmed life as a consultant and TV show host traveling the world posting pictures of exotic locations and experiences through which I still live vicariously.
Stu taught me something that late night/early morning that forever changed the way I view others.
Somehow, he knew what it felt like.
In the middle of one game, he left our group for a vacant corner of the bar to start a conversation with a stranger. I didn’t know he was a stranger, only that I’d seen him over there sipping on a beer by himself all night. Stu returned with him as a new addition to our team of losers. “Guys, this is Michael.” Nobody questioned the add.
At this point, let me share that one of the things that makes us all most warmed in the heart are those rare stories of someone stepping out of their element, off their podium and out of their comfortable stature to notice one lesser. Jesus speaking to the Samaritan, the celebrity fixating on the most unlikely of fans in the crowd, the captain of the football team eating lunch with the nerd, the beautiful seeking company of the ugly.
What it feels like to be embraced by the smile of one you least expect. What it feels like to be welcomed in smallness at the table of greatness. What it feels like to be considered equal among those clearly superior in so many unimaginable ways.
It was in that bar that very evening when I saw love and humility at work in tandem. And it was that unlikely night when I absorbed the virtues of a stranger which to this day, defines who I am.
I haven’t seen Stu for many years now, but the guy in the kilt taught me more than how to be socially savvy. He taught me that inviting people into one’s life requires a warmth of spirit, remarkable humility and maybe a couple shots of tequila.
Come in from the cold and warm up to people. ‘Tis the season to be jolly, to make new friends, and to be an inspiring example.