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  • jolwajda


Silver hair. Clean shaven. Always a plain t-shirt (black or grey, sometimes white), dark blue jeans and nice shoes. All class. The first year I lived in Ontario, I bartended at an Italian restaurant in a beautiful old brick building with a boutique hotel attached to it. Mario, I learned, had an extended stay at the hotel. He would sit at the wood and sometimes order red wine, but almost exclusively drank Export. It’s the first thing I noticed and liked about him. Export is similar to Schooner on the East Coast; a pretty subpar beer that I ordered all the time the first few years I lived in Halifax. I've once ordered it and had the bartender say to me, “Weird… You're not an eighty-year-old man with teeth missing?” It’s still a tradition for me whenever I'm not living out east, and come back to visit, to crack one as soon as my feet touch the east coast soil. So much so that my mom often brings one for me in the car when she picks me up at the airport. So, I noticed it right off the bat when it was Mario’s drink of choice. He also often has something in front of him. One day it could be a book or a paper, and other days, his laptop.

Once we got into the groove of a comfortable bartender/regular relationship, I asked him what he was always working on. He said he was writing a memoir - a book about his life. I was hooked. Writing a memoir pretty much has been the biggest dream of my life and here was this guy sitting at the bar in front of me doing just that. That was just so inspiring to me. We started conversing more often. I would stay and have a drink with him after work, learning about different parts of his life. It was around this time my father’s health started to deteriorate. We talked often about the uncertainties that are brought with impending grief, and the heartache the following months and years were sure to bring. I don't think he actually knows the full capacity he helped me through that chapter, with wisdom he taught through lessons from parts of his own journey and the grief he has endured. I’ll be forever indebted to him for that. It was edging close to the end of his stay at the hotel. Over thanksgiving weekend, I brought him a Tupperware container of leftovers from my turkey dinner over the holidays. In return he brought me a very expensive (to me anyhow) bottle of wine. I don't think I opened it for close to a year, never finding the right occasion for it. It was so fancy! I couldn't just drink it for any old reason. When I finally did, it was on the East Coast sitting with my mom in the backyard, watching the sun go down over the trees on one of my visits home. One of the best damn wines I've ever had. Before he departed from Ontario, we exchanged emails, and promised to stay in touch. And I was pleasantly surprised when we both, in fact, stayed true to our word. I love having an email appear from Mario in my inbox. It's always so exciting to get an update. Where is he now? Mexico City? Toronto? Japan?! Mario moved to Tokyo in his early twenties and lived there for eighteen years. He worked as a journalist for Reuters, an online international news website. When I met him, he was in the midst of travelling. Landing in Mexico city after leaving Canada, doing freelance work that allowed him to live the way he wanted to, where he wanted to… He has built a life that I one

day aspire to have. Whenever he did make it back to Ontario, we would go out for dinner, talking for hours about anything and everything. I don't know how old Mario is, well, because I've simply never asked. It seems so unimportant, but if someone were to look at us and assume we were a couple, it would appear a May-December relationship, I imagine. I remember us out for dinner one night, I'm not exactly sure what we were talking about for it to lead to this conversation but he said to me, “You know Jo, I don't spend time with you because you're pretty, or look good beside me, I spend time with you because you are interesting, and have intelligent things to say.” It is to this day one of the most important compliments I have ever gotten, and after Mario said it to me, I think is the first time I ever truly started to believe it. He also taught me the value of time. Listen, I'm not giving pearls here. We all know how important time is. But he taught me to look at it in a different way. Shortly before I met Mario, he had suffered an incredible loss. It flipped the script for him. He explained to me how he no longer gives it away for free. For instance, if he is sitting in a bar and someone strikes up a conversation with him that he has no desire to have, he cuts it off. He explains that he is there to have a drink and enjoy his book, or whatever he is doing. He doesn't let himself get sucked into something that wastes everyone’s time just, for the sheer act of being polite. Brilliant! I've used this lesson many times throughout my years, and it’s super liberating. Imagine everyone followed this rule? With work? Friendships? Through relationships? How much of everyone’s time would be saved if people had the courage to say they didn't want something to continue - whether it be a conversation at a bar, or something much more intricate and deeply woven in your life. Sure, if you're on the receiving end, it's not fun to hear. And if you're on the dispensing end, it may be difficult to say. But when it comes right down to it, both parties win. Everyone gets to save there oh-so-valuable time for other things. For other people. I try very, very hard in my life to actively apply this lesson Mario taught me, because a thief of someone's time is the worst kind of thief you can be. Mario and I haven't been able to see each other for a few years now. We still check in with each other. He has been occupying his time in Spain. The last time we spoke he was in the process of buying a little home close to the seaside. How lucky for me - another location I hope to explore. Mario embodies everything I find enduring in a friendship: He is intelligent, generous, full of adventure, well-read, well-travelled… he lives life the way I believe it's supposed to be lived. He is kind, with the most genuine heart. I will forever be grateful that he found value in granting me some of his time. Mario, you signed off one of your earliest emails to me with, “May your path move forever forward.” I hope for you that your path continues to move forever forward in the most incredible of ways.


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