The most rewarding things happen in the most unusual places and at the most unexpected times. Sitting in a car dealer’s service waiting room was just the perfect setting for this special exchange. It was a chance encounter with a special man, who had a burden to share.
Most of us look for someone we know well when we want to unload or spill our guts, but sometimes it works best with the help of a kind stranger.
Stuck in a pleasant room for about an hour we talked cars, sports, and regions of the country. He was alone and mentioned several times in passing that it was only him. I had a sense there was more to the “only him” story, but have learned to not actively pry. Sure enough, within the next 10 minutes grief began to spill out of my new friend. His wife of 53 years, died of cancer 5 months ago. He was trying his best to make sense of his life and her death. It was so raw that he wasn’t sleeping and couldn’t stop asking himself if he had done enough to save her. He relived her 3 year fight with disease, as if he had a fine tooth comb for which he was responsible. He was the problem solver and this was the one time he couldn’t solve anything. This was the one time he couldn’t rescue her. He talked openly about how poor her quality of life was during her illness and how hard he tried to make things better. He was exhausted and felt like he had been hit by a freight train. As he talked his features softened and I could tell he just needed to say his thoughts out loud to someone he didn’t know, who wouldn’t judge, and who had a sympathetic ear. I was not offering advice; I was offering an impartial ear and heart.
“How are you doing?” is the one question he hates to be asked because he says there aren’t any words yet to define how he is feeling. Concerned people expect him to say that he is ok, so he is happy to oblige, but just between me and him he has no idea how he is. He is trying to make sense of an old life and build a new life at the same time. After 53 years with someone his life and its definition is tied to his past. It’s too fresh yet to venture forward. He much prefers the friends that don’t ask him how he is doing, but ask him if they can get him anything at the store or invite him over for dinner.
The spell of our talk ended when a new person comes in to join in the wait. We look at each other knowingly. Enough had been said. It was time to appreciate what just happened and move on.
My car was ready. I shook his hand with friendship and told him it was a pleasure to talk with him. He held my hand for a moment and said, “Thank you”. From that moment on I knew the phrase, “I’m OK,” would never be the same to me.
Live your dreams,