Faith Stories: A Chance Encounter
A few weeks ago, I found myself on the opposite end of town in need of a few groceries, so I stopped in a Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market since it was close by. When I walked in, I stood near the front of the store trying to orient myself to the unfamiliar layout, and as I did, I noticed an older man shuffling toward me, pushing a basket.
“Howyadoin?” I muttered without making eye contact, really not expecting a reply or wishing to engage.
“I’ve lost my wife,” he responded vacantly.
I raised myself on tiptoes to see if I could spot an elderly woman wandering through Wal-Mart, looking for her mate.
“She died last Friday,” the man continued.
With those words, my heart seared with pain, and the dams behind my eyes broke as I burst into tears under the pressure of my own present grief.
“I’m so sorry,” I said as I wiped my eyes, a bit embarrassed by my outburst. “I lost my dad this year.”
“My wife had hair cut like yours,” he went on, and then fished in his pocket for a wallet-sized photo of her.
“She’s lovely,” I said, and meant it.
We stood there for a moment, not knowing what else to say, and then I did something I’ve never done before. I leaned forward and asked, “May I give you a hug?”
The man nodded, and I leaned over and awkwardly, stiffly put my arms around him, held on for a moment, and then let go to shuffle out the store as I resumed my shopping errands.
I wish I could write about the great revelation I received while giving that hug, but unfortunately, there has not been one. I’ve been in that same Wal-Mart two or three times since, but I haven’t seen the gentleman again. I still don’t know if the meeting was an odd coincidence or a divine appointment; I don’t know if there was a great lesson to be learned that day, for so far, God has been silent. All I know is, for a few moments, my grief and his met one another as we shared a hug, and I walked away feeling what Wesley might have described as “strangely warmed.”
Heather Johnston Durham