12 November 2010

The man who says goodbye

Every day and every night, for nearly fifteen years, there was an old man who stood for hours along the streets of Lisbon waving goodbye to people driving by... To many he was just a crazy stranger, who, rain or shine,  reported faithfully to the streets, as if this was his job, his mission in life. Waving and blowing kisses to drivers passing by was his biggest pleasure in life. Why, many people asked? The answer was easy... He was lonely.

Ever since his mom - with whom he lived - had died, he had felt alone. He hated the sound of the key opening the door to his quiet home... His "trunk of lost dreams" was filled with what never was... the degree he never got, the job he never had, the children he never created, and mostly the love story he never wrote... You see, João was born into a wealthy family. He cried so much on his first day of elementary school that his parents did not have the heart to send him back, so they chose to have him home schooled, with the help of a tutor. He admits he was raised in a glass bubble... His parents' divorce, at age 13, devastated him, and, despite his father's pressure (with whom he had moved in) to become a lawyer, he never found the motivation to finish his degree. His father, not knowing what to do with him, sent him to England for a few years, but João missed his family too much and eventually came back. After his father passed, he moved in with his mother, with whom he remained until her last days. A series of failed businesses and a gradual distancing from his siblings (mostly due to family inheritance issues) made him extremely close to his mom. She was his world, and her passing devastated him...  One day, on a lonely walk, someone waved at him... He waved back... He came back the next day, and the next, and the next...

One time, during an interview, João waved and blew a kiss at a young woman who honked as she drove by... The interviewer asked if he knew her... He answered "I do now...!" The journalist then asked if he was aware that his nickname was  "the man who says goodbye"... The word for goodbye in Portuguese is ADEUS, which literally means to God (a-deus). "The man who sees God?", he replied... The journalist chose not to correct him...

The man who says goodbye is no longer lonely... An email from my sister told me of his passing, at the age of 80 years old. Lisbon already misses him and his sweet embrace... He represented the true dichotomy of urban life - all alone yet surrounded by a multitude of people... With a small gesture used to muffle his own loneliness, he brought joy and happiness to so many... Maybe it wasn't a "goodbye", maybe it was a "hello", a "see you later"... Chances are, even though he is no longer there, passers-by are still smiling, waving, honking... So, next time someone smiles and waves at you, smile back... Who knows, it may just make a world of difference...


  1. Isabelle,
    What a beautiful story. If only everyone could take a moment to smile and wave!
    Thank you.
    Kim (Flutterby)

  2. I got goose bumps & a lump in my throat;- what a sad, sad story!
    How could the parents stop him from achieving the copying skills he clearly needed from a young age????
    He looked so lost, in the video!
    But to imagine he did this for 15 years is mind boggling;- what a man he became, after all!
    Adjø (as we say it in Norwegian)

  3. Isabel, thanks for the great story. It makes you stop and think of how the small things in our lives can affect so many. He took his loneliness, and reached out with affection! Touching story.

  4. Such a touching and moving story. Thank you so much for sharing it.

    Pam x

  5. That is a very sweet story. Too few people take the time anymore to just smile and say hello to a stranger. Bless his heart, I know he is missed by many people.

  6. I live in Ohio and this man has touched my heart. Thank you so much for sharing.

  7. What an unusual tale - very poignant - I think that Joao must have been an extremely sensitive human being. Thanks for sharing his story with us. I love all of your posts but especially enjoy the insights that you share about Lisbon & Portugal.

  8. Oh Dear.....that is so precious and beautiful! You brought tears to my eyes and I just looove this story!
    I think I love the old man too! May he rest in peace and bring joy wherever he´s at no as well....and let us all learn rom this.My "saying" sometimes is :"It´s better to say hello one time too many,than one time too little!"

  9. What a bittersweet story, but one that makes me pause. Here in Texas, especially in the smaller towns, waving is a part of driving even when we don't know who we're waving to. It must be taught in Driver's Ed 'cause we all do it and probably for the same reason as this feel a sense of connection...and to get a smile.

  10. Such a sweet story. He will be truly missed by all the lives that he touched, by just a simple wave and smile. That story was a good reminder for everyone to slow down abit, and say "Hi!".

  11. Just seeing his face light up when someone honks at him is amazing! He really looked like an interesting man, it is such a shame how we are all too busy to stop and visit with someone so faithful in his daily routine.

  12. I had a cousin who as a child would take his rocking chair to the corner every morning and evening to wave. He actually wore out a rocker! Sadly he passed just before Christmas last year. Joe was "different" but even though many thought he was odd, he made a lot of friends. Maybe he is waving with the "Man who says goodbye"?

  13. This story made my heart ache.

    Que os anjos te acompanhem João.
    Paz à sua alma!


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