Wednesday, August 09, 2006

School supplies, serendipity, ice cream and tears

Yesterday we went shopping for school supplies. After picking up a few essentials, and because we were celebrating the fact that none of us had any cavities (this was a known fact, not just a guess, as we'd been to the dentist in the morning) I decreed it to be an Ice Cream for Lunch Day.

We stopped for our treats, and settled down to enjoy them. As the girls were slurping their way through Oreo- and Reese's Peanut Butter Cup-laced concoctions, an elderly man approached our table.

"I just wanted to say," he said rather slowly, "that you just have some very nice girls there, and you all remind me of our family a number of years back. We had three girls, too."

I responded with something like, "Isn't that nice?" and said it was kind of him to compliment the girls. Then he went on to say, "I've got kind of a sad story, though ...."

Oh, no, I thought, who are you, and what's coming next?

"We, um," he said, looking troubled. "We lost our youngest daughter to cancer."

Oh, my. I was jolted, but managed to relay my shock and sympathy. I asked when it had happened, thinking it must've been years ago.

"Just last month," he said, tearing up. "She was 41. I was there when she died. And it just ...."

He trailed off, as tears filled his eyes. (And mine.)

"I'm so sorry," I said feebly. I looked at Anne, who was also tearing up.

He continued. "She had the Lord as her Savior, and she told me that. She said she wasn't afraid ... so, you know, that's my consolation. But," he choked, "it just tears you up inside."

"I can't even imagine," I whispered.

The surrealness of this scene didn't really occur to me. Somehow it seemed perfectly right that I was sitting here, listening to this stranger who stood next to my table as he shared his grief with a family who was willing to listen.

He shook his head, as if to recollect his thoughts, and said, "I just ... I really wanted to stop and say something to you, because I just saw that you look like such a nice, happy family. I saw your three girls talking and laughing, and I thought, 'Why there's Suzanne and Maureen and Ginger!' Just like my girls ...."

He shook his head again, and since I probably seemed unable to say anything at that point, he finished up by saying, "I just wanted to say that you all just reminded me of our family, and I could tell that you have somethin' special. You know, not everyone has that these days ... it's a rotten world, and not everyone has what you have ... and so, I just wanted to say that."

Through a few more tears, I thanked him. I told him again how sorry I was that he had lost his daughter, and that I appreciated his kindness at taking the time to stop and talk to us.

"God bless you," I said softly, feeling once again that my words were sorely inadequate.

When he left, Anne-with-an-e was crying. I comforted her, and said that although his story was a sad one, and that he missed his daughter very much, it was comforting that they had their faith (and that we have ours.) I told the girls I was glad we were there -- glad we could listen to a man who needed to talk about the daughters he loves so much. But, also, his little visit to our table was a blessing for me, I said. I was touched that he could see how much we love one another, and touched that he took the time to say it.

When we got home, I told Atticus about it -- about how it felt as if an angel had stopped to talk to us. This angel reminded me of our abundant blessings, our abundant love for one another ... of all that's really important.

Then, Atticus said, "Do you remember that last phone call we got for the Rosary Crusade? It was about a month ago. They asked us to pray for a couple who had just lost their 40-something daughter to cancer."

I had forgotten, but Atticus was right.

Though I can't know for certain, this stranger -- this "angel" -- who had felt compelled to approach an ice-cream-eating mother and her three daughters was quite possibly the man for whom I had prayed anonymously last month.

And once again, I feel awed by and unworthy of the love and mercy of such a God as we have. He intertwines our lives in ways we cannot predict, often do not see, and most certainly cannot fully comprehend on this side of heaven.

Serendipity? It's such a lovely and whimsical word for grace.

15 comments:

Cay in La. said...

How incredibly sad...and holy.
If this man only knew how many lives he is touching due to his sharing with you and your sharing with us. A beautiful experience.

Theresa said...

That is just amazing and beautiful. Definitely a moment of grace for him and for your family.

Jennie C. said...

That is a beautiful story. I don't believe in coincidence, myself, and it sounds like you don't either. I cried right along with you. And sendipity is one of my favorite words!

Cheryl said...

I'm teary eyed. That was beautifully written and I'm sure experiencing it was even better. Thanks for sharing it. I came to your blog because of a link on Cay's. I'll have to come back again.

scott said...

A co-worker came into my office just now and asked with some understandable concern why I had tears in my eyes.

Thanks to you and your stranger for a reminder of what's really important.

Atticus said...

Wow, you're good. I think I love you.

Amy said...

So beautiful, Karen. (I love Atticus's comment too, lol)

Molly said...

Wow, what a beautiful story. Thank you for sharing.

Why is it that I always seem to tear up whenever I visit your blog?! ;-)

Rebecca said...

Karen, that was a beautiful story and post.

Georgette said...

Absolutely precious! I'm in tears. Thank you for writing about this, and so beautifully.

Lissa said...

My hubby beat me to it. Actually he saw the post first and sent me an email saying "wow." Indeed. Oh Karen, how beautiful and moving. Thank you.

K said...

Nothing new to add to the comments other than I am also teary-eyed and blessed by your experience.

Sometimes I think we, as a generation, think that once someone is "old", they somehow don't feel the same way. I think, however, they are just more private, honorable, and deliberate about whom they share it with. I thank God that you were there for him, and he for you.

Kristina's World said...

Thank you for this wonderful, thought provoking, family-hug-inspiring, tear shedding post. God Bless you and your dear ones, Karen. Also, God Bless the grieving gentleman whose witness is now in my heart, too.

Margaret in Minnesota said...

Yes, the tears are rolling down my face, also.

(This with my five little rugrats playing happily behind me.)

I have to be honest, Karen. Cancer freaks me out. What with my cousin fighting breast cancer and one of my best friends fighting colon cancer and a former classmate dying just this WEEK from--you guessed it--cancer, I have been wrestling with the demon Fear (with anxiety and uncertainty playing minor roles).

Well, thank goodness for grace. For it is grace alone that can help us through the darker hours; grace that reminds us to be more fully present to the moment and to the people God has called into our lives.

My heart goes out to the gentleman in your story while at the same time I am in awe of how you and your daughters were Christ to him in his moment of need.

That is so awesome. GOD is so awesome.

Karen E. said...

Thanks, to all of you, for taking the time to share your reactions. God is indeed amazing!