The Strangers Beside Us
We pass by strangers every day.
Most of the time, like ships in the night, we don’t even know they’re there or who they are.
I wonder how many times we’ve stood beside truly remarkable people, extraordinary individuals among us — those who have witnessed incredible events in history and may have even shaped the world in some way — and didn’t even know it.
It probably happens more often than you think.
I’d like to tell you a brief story about someone special I met today. But the surprise isn’t so much in the identity of the person. It was the immense personal reward I gained by reaching out, taking the initiative, and simply being curious. That’s the real blessing of today’s story. I think we need more of that.
It all began with a simple elevator ride at the Sheraton on Canal Street, in New Orleans.
As I stepped onto the elevator from the 16th floor, I observed a tall man inside wearing a dark blue suit. The man didn’t stand out in any way, except that he wore one of those convention badges commonly seen around big hotels, inscribed with his name and hometown.
His badge read — KIRK LIPPOLD. Beneath his name, was the word — COMMANDER.
The elevator seemed to take a bit longer than expected. Standing on elevators can be awkward. They aren’t usually conducive to conversation, other than small talk. However, something caught my eye and I had to satisfy my curiosity about it.
The man’s name sounded familiar. I couldn’t place it exactly. But I knew this name had been in the news. As I turned my head, I notice a tag affixed to the man’s badge. It read — SPEAKER.
So, the man was a speaker at some convention. This was the perfect sedge-way for a question.
“Are you speaking at a convention here today?” I asked.
“Yes, I’m with a leadership conference on the second floor,” the man replied politely.
“What are you speaking about?” I asked.
“I’m giving a talk about leadership when faced with a crisis.” the man said.
“That sounds interesting. Did you have to go through something like that?” I asked — realizing how nosy and naive I must have sounded.
“I guess you could say that,” the man replied. “I was the commanding officer of the U.S.S. Cole when it was attacked by Al-Quaeda.”
What an encounter.
We talked a bit longer, even after stepping off the elevator and into the lobby. Despite his obviously busy schedule, Commander Lippold spent considerably more time with me than this moment deserved. I consider myself fortunate to have met him and enjoyed hearing a few of this thoughts. I even got invited to the speech, which unfortunately I had to decline.
Aside from Commander Lippold’s association with a terrorist attack that predated 9-11, there was yet another reason why his name sounded so familiar.
As it turns out, Lippold resides in the state of Nevada. It’s been reported that he’s now seriously considering a run against Sen. Harry Reid next time he’s up for re-election for the U.S. Senate. Currently active in the Nevada Republican Party, Lippold appears to be moving towards a comfortable transition to politics after a long and distinguished career as a U.S. Naval Officer.
The great irony here is that –despite my far left of center politics — I’d love to see Harry Reid kicked out of office. He’s arguably the worst Senate Majority Leader in U.S history. Who knows? I may very well have met the man who will replace him.
Alas, if spending a few minutes with a stranger means anything — and I believe it does — perhaps he’s someone we’ll be seeing a lot more of in the near future. Whatever he decides to do, I hope so.
You never know who you might run into — even on an elevator.