Over the course of my life I have met several individuals to whom I have given the nickname “Sage.” These are people who have accumulated much knowledge, wisdom and experience and have valuable lessons for younger persons like myself. While they tend to be older people, there are certainly younger ones as well. You oftentimes do not know you are talking to a sage, but when you do the conversation turns dramatically, and usually you then point the conversation towards a topic of yours or their interest and proceed to let the sage do most of the talking.
While on a train between Berlin and Copenhagen, Denmark, I met another sage. He was an older man, I would guess about 55, and was on his way to girlfriend’s family home. Most of the year he works as a salvage and rescue diver in Egypt, but each summer he returns to Denmark (maybe to avoid being burned alive by the Egyptian summer). Our conversation did not start off as much of anything; the first thing that came up was how I had reserved a particular seat, and some girl was sitting in it. Once it did take off, there were a few notable topics, which I have detailed below.
I happened to have a bottle of Coca Cola with me that I had bought in Berlin prior to getting on the train, which then launched a discussion about food and health (as a side note, I don’t drink soda often, but overseas I had a few occasions where strangely felt “man, I could really go for a soda about now”). The Sage reminded me of the well known detriments of soda and even told me that scientists were discovering that sugar was toxic to the body (easily the worst news I have ever heard). Shortly after this however, the Sage gave an interesting defense of fast food. His takes issue with people calling it “bad food,” though he does not contend it is great food either. “It’s just food” I remember him saying.
The irony of this health discussion is that the Sage is a smoker. He has been meaning to quit for decades, but has just given up at this point. When he was younger he told himself that he would quit when the price of a pack of cigarettes hit a certain price. It hit that price and he readjusted the quitting price. After a few years it hit that price too, and the cycle continued for many years until he realized he was never going to stop.
Related to this, the Sage was nearing retirement, and told me about some of his plans. Apparently much of the land in the center of Denmark’s peninsula is decent farmland and not very expensive. The Sage was planning on buying a few acres and then growing his own tobacco so that he would not have to buy expensive packs of cigarettes. He even showed me his tobacco roller, and rolled a new cigarette on the table between us to show me how it worked. Later on the train ride, when the train was loaded onto a ferry and we had a 45 minute ferry passage across the sea, the Sage smoked his new cigarette up on the ferry’s deck.
The Euro Crisis was bound to come up at some point, and it sure enough did. Although the Sage and I did not discuss it much, I did detect a hint of the resentment that has been growing among Europeans from the central and northern countries regarding all the money that is being sent the perimeter nations (i.e. Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland) to keep them solvent. We have seen this over the past few years particularly in Germany, whose government has been insistent on high levels of austerity being set by recipient nations in exchange for bailout funds. Continuing on from this, the Sage mentioned how he has been watching the budgetary problems in America. This was an opportunity for me to speak up, and I told him how things were going in America, and how we still haven’t come to recognize or reconcile the massive gap between the level of service we want from our government and the amount of money we are willing to pay for it.
The Sage also passed on some interesting information about Egypt. Apparently it is very difficult to get property insurance there because insurance fraud is so rampant. On one hand you will never be paying a premium on you car/house/whatever, but on the other hand if something does happen to it, you’ll be stuck paying all the expense of replacement or repair.
At another point the Sage echoed what I’ve been told by a number of people: don’t marry. I’m actually from the pro-marriage side of things, but I let him keep talking. I know this line of thinking has been growing over the past few years, and in the past several weeks I’ve had the opportunity to work through a number thoughtful reads on the topic. While I still think marriage is a wonderful, God-given institution, the marriage critics make a number of interesting points.
One last thing stands out that I remember from the conversation (there was certainly much more discussed, but I am giving a record of only certain sections). By the time I was on the train to Copenhagen, my trip across Europe was nearly done. I told the Sage of all the various places and things I had seen. The Sage was not impressed. He told me that Europe is like a two sided coin, and I had not even seen one side of it. There is the obvious interpretation of this, but I suspect he meant far more than that for everything I had seen, I had seen hardly seen anything at all.