For a few years now, 58-year-old Al Nixon has been helping random strangers in St. Petersburg, Florida by serving as a therapist.
When you have a lot on your mind, talking to someone about it could help reduce the burden. But most of the time we hesitate to do so when sharing our problems with someone who we know. On the contrary, it feels liberating to spill everything on a complete stranger you probably won't be meeting again or have around you most of the time. Maybe that's why bartenders are one of the best choices, including a hairstylist and old man who sits on a bench, because they are good listeners who give us the opportunity to get the closest thing to free therapy. Yes, they can't always solve our problems but they sure can empathize with us which is enough to cheer us up.
It’s St. Petersburg’s bench, but Al owns it https://t.co/eVVDXrjURk— Things to Do by Tampa Bay Times (@thingstodotampa) May 24, 2021
For a few years now, 58-year-old Al Nixon has been helping random strangers in St. Petersburg, Florida by serving as a therapist. It all began seven years ago when Nixon visited the city's waterfront to clear his head. He loved having a quiet place to go to for a therapeutic escape as he wanted to be left alone. But that changed when a woman, who had been observing him sit at the same place every day, came up to him and said, "Every day I see you, I know everything is going to be OK." Nixon had never met the woman before but what she said to him stuck.
In St. Petersburg, Fla., when Al Nixon started coming to a park bench seven years ago, he needed a quiet place to clear his head. Today, he's providing impromptu therapy sessions, as a trusted confidant and counselor to whoever passes by https://t.co/5YBArzDj0t pic.twitter.com/rz0tfkt4kU— CBS Sunday Morning 🌞 (@CBSSunday) July 18, 2021
During an interview with CBS News, he said, "That made me realize that when you speak to someone, or you smile, you let them know, 'I value you.' And people pick that up." Inspired by this, he decided to go to the same spot every single day, including weekends, to lend an ear to anyone who might be facing a crisis. Nixon sees this as a new mission in his life. "For the first time, I knew there was more of a purpose to me being out here than just soothing my own woes," he told the Tampa Bay Times. "We have an impact on other people, unwittingly, and I’m sure it can be both good or bad."
As he started visiting the spot regularly, Nixon noticed that people began confiding in him more. "Their marriages and relationships, especially that stuff," he shared. Nixon also has a bunch of his own rules to ensure his service is helpful and impartial. He doesn't offer his advice to anyone unless it's asked for and also does not burden them with his own issues, keeping the conversation about him to a minimum. But most importantly he doesn't judge anyone. "Mostly people just want to be heard. I’ve heard a thousand stories. I don’t consider myself all that smart, or debonair, but I’m a good listener," he expressed.
I see him every morning as I run along the bay. His presence is peaceful.— Jack 🐚 (@JackInTheBurg) July 18, 2021
Although Nixon, who works for the city water department, is not a certified therapist, he does offer a shoulder to cry on. And his visitors swear by the importance of his work. One of his regulars, Renee Rutstein says, "He knows everything about me," adding that she doesn't feel weird sharing her secrets with a man who sits on a bench every day "because he'll never judge me and he always shoots me straight." It is his no judgment rule that makes people appreciate him the most. "He's like the guiding force," said Bernadette Dorset-Mills who believes she hasn't met a man wiser than him.
While at the park, Nixon makes himself stand out by wearing his put-together outfit, which is topped off with a fedora. He is available at the park every day between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m. Appreciating Nixon's efforts towards complete strangers, someone has affixed a plaque on the bench he always sits on. It reads, "A loving and loyal friend and a confidant to many. Forever and always." Initially, the plaque caused people to worry that something had happened to Nixon when someone posted an inquiry about his whereabouts. The beloved individual had to log in to the website to clarify that he was fine and doing well. "It’s a wonderful thing to make a person know they’re appreciated like that, while they’re still alive," he said, adding the gesture really touched him.