Al Nixon has been playing the role of the therapist to random strangers in St. Petersburg, Florida for seven years now.
They say, just sharing your problems with someone can reduce the burden it has on your mind. It is the closest thing to free therapy. While sharing problems with someone you know may feel uncomfortable, there is something liberating about sharing it with a complete stranger you will probably never meet again. Most often you find them as bartenders, your hairstylist, or the old man who is always sitting on the park bench. They may not always be able to solve your problems, but just lending you their ear and empathizing with you for a while can cheer you up well enough.
Al Nixon, 58, has been playing the role of the therapist to random strangers in St. Petersburg, Florida. Seven years ago Nixon went to the city's waterfront to clear his head. He was looking for a quiet place to go to, as a therapeutic escape for himself. He wanted to be left alone. But seeing him in the same place every day, a woman he had never met came up to him and said, "Every day I see you, I know everything is going to be OK." Nixon could not forget how that made him feel. Speaking to 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."
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
He made it a point to go to the same spot every single day including the weekends. He now had a new mission in life. “For the first time, I knew there was more of a purpose to me being out here than just soothing my own woes,” Nixon told the Tampa Bay Times. “We have an impact on other people, unwittingly, and I’m sure it can be both good or bad.” He noticed that when he showed up every day, people started confiding in him. “Their marriages and relationships, especially that stuff,” Nixon noted. To be there for people he has rules. He doesn’t judge, and he doesn’t offer advice unless it’s asked for. Another rule is he does not burden people with his own worries or talk too much about himself.
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
“Mostly people just want to be heard,” he said. “I’ve heard a thousand stories. I don’t consider myself all that smart, or debonair, but I’m a good listener.” He is not a certified therapist and works for the city water department. All he offers is a shoulder to cry on. Renee Rutstein, one of his regulars said, "He knows everything about me," and added, it does not feel weird sharing her secrets with a man on a bench "because he'll never judge me and he always shoots me straight." His no-judgment rule is what people appreciate the most. Bernadette Dorset-Mills said, "He's like the guiding force." She doesn't think she has met a wiser man.
I see him every morning as I run along the bay. His presence is peaceful.— Jack 🐚 (@JackInTheBurg) July 18, 2021
Nixon stands out from the joggers in his put-together outfit, topped off with a fedora. People who visit the park every day between 6 am to 8 am can count on his presence. In appreciation of Nixon and what he has done for complete strangers, someone has affixed a plaque on the bench he always sits on. The small plaque reads: "A loving and loyal friend and a confidant to many. Forever and always." The plaque caused people to worry that something had happened to Nixon when someone posted on Nextdoor enquiring about his whereabouts. Nixon 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 stated. The gesture really touched him and left him teary-eyed.