“If you lock 20 people in a room, after 24h at least one of them will be dead. If you lock 1000 teddies in a room, I can guarantee you that after one week you can open the door and they will be smiling at you”.
Patrick (we’ll call him like that) lights up a cigarette and pours himself a glass of tequila. His skin is marked by a rough past and “juice” consumption (vino tinto). His hands reveal skills as a carpenter working in harsh and cold environments. When I ask where he’s from, he doesn’t answer. He has no home, nor a clear idea of where he would like to go next. He’s been travelling most of his life, at times sleeping in hostels, at times on the street. He doesn’t seem to mind and he never feels lonely. His teddy has been with him for many years. “Teddy always listens, he never answers back like women do” – he says. Patrick has been collecting teddies throughout his life. At one stage he ended up with a backpack full of them, which he eventually gave away to African kids he met along the way. The happiness in those kids’ eyes was all he needed to feel good.
He lights up another cigarette. “Teddies make people happy, they bring a smile to your face. Always. This is my religion”. He shows me the screensaver on his phone, a cloud in the shape of what to me looked like an angry gorilla, to him a sweet, caring teddy bear. While he was telling me about long flights across the globe always with Teddy by his side, I remembered that in my hard drive I had a picture of me at the age of 2, holding what became my Teddy. I grabbed my laptop and showed it to him. I don’t know if he really appreciated the gesture, but it certainly brought me back to those days as a kid when I, too, was talking to my best friend and finding the answers I needed. Answers my Teddy wasn’t really giving me, of course. Answers I could only find within myself.
He is right, teddies do make people smile. Sometimes they help you realise that you know yourself better than anyone else, and all you need is a soft, animal-looking toy which patiently sits on your bed for a while and just listens to what you have to say… to yourself. We seem to like when objects or pets become our trusted friends. The fact that they just absorb whatever you have to let out is a reflection of how difficult it is for us to communicate with those around us. The same night I met Patrick, I also spent some time with a beautiful woman who told me she has spoken with more people in 5 months in Mexico, than in her home country in 6 years. At home, people like to talk about how stressful life is, how annoying X was at the party and how much little time they have. Very few actually listen. And when you do find a person who does, someone who gives you full attention while you speak, you found a treasure.
Surround yourself with people who don’t hold their phone while they sit with you sipping a coffee. People who ask ‘how are you’ and really listen to the answer. People who look at you in the eyes and wait for you to finish, without chipping in to tell you their own experience. We all do that. But once you understand how genuine it is to find someone who is like a teddy bear, you may change a little.
Today, stop and talk to someone. Spend 5 minutes really getting to know the bartender, the woman on the street, the neighbour you awkwardly avoid every day. Everyone you meet will teach you something. And there’s nothing better in life than getting to know life itself through the stories of others.