Jones paused a moment to let the truth of my last realization sink in. Then he offered a plan of action. "So how does one become a person whom other people want to be around? Let me make a suggestion. Ask yourself this question every day: 'What is it about me that other people would change if they could?'"
Thinking for a moment, I had a question of my own. "Jones, what if I get an answer about something that I don't want to change?"
The old man tittered and replied, "The question wasn't about you in the first place. The question was, what would other people change about you if they could?"
Sensing my uncertainty, he explained, "Look, son, I'm not saying that you should live your life according to the whims of others. I am simply pointing out that if you are to become a person of influence—if you want people to believe the things you believe or buy what you are selling—then others must at least be comfortable around you. A successful life has a great deal to do with perspective. And another person's perspective about you can sometimes be as important as your perspective is about yourself."
For several minutes, we both sat silently, watching the gulls soar overhead, listening to the surf break on the beach. Then Jones began to gather the empty cans and place them in the plastic bag. Standing, he extended his hand and helped me to my feet. "Incidentally," he said with a smirk, "you ate sardines and Vienna sausages in the sand. I dined on surf and turf with an ocean view." He slapped me on the back. "It's all about perspective."
Later that day, I crawled back into my home under the pier. Laid neatly on my tackle box were three more orange books. Again, they were all biographies. Joan of Arc. Abraham Lincoln. Viktor Frankl. I picked up the Frankl book first; I was unfamiliar with him. The book was titled Man's Search for Meaning. As I skimmed through, I learned that Frankl was an Austrian psychiatrist who survived the Nazi death camps during World War II. His wife, father, and mother were all murdered.
It's all about perspective . . . I could hear Jones's voice rattling around in my head.
Suddenly I noticed that there was a piece of paper folded into the book. As I removed it, I could see that it was a napkin. On it, Jones had written:
Young man, Read this one first. I am proud of you. Jones
Tears filled my eyes as I carefully placed the letter back into the book. It had been a long time since anyone had been proud of me.
Today, I can remember distinctly that the next three books were Harry Truman, Florence Nightingale, and King David. Then I was given Harriet Tubman, Queen Elizabeth I, and John Adams. Numbers thirteen, fourteen, and fifteen were Eleanor Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and Joshua Chamberlain. Tucked into the Chamberlain book was a note from Jones, simply instructing me to please return these last three to the library myself, which I did—and I checked out George Washington, Anne Frank, and Christopher Columbus on my own.
It wasn't long before I noticed that Jones had gone.
I looked for him for weeks, finding evidence of his having "been around" at every turn. Jones had arranged for Nancy, the owner of Sea N Suds, a restaurant on the beach, to fry any fish I brought in. Hush puppies and iced tea were included in my special price. Along with all the crackers I could eat, the price was a dollar.