I remember it like yesterday. Some moments leave these impressions on us. Leaving us uneasy, out of sorts, but better for it. I was on my way to visit my mom. One of the first visits after the loss of my dad.
Sitting in Dallas, waiting for my next flight, when I spotted him. My eyes were drawn to him. I stopped reading, slipping my iPad into my bag. He sat nearby, yet angled away ... having been pushed to a stop and left, alone.
I tried to make eye contact with him. I found myself intent on his face, refusing to lift my gaze. I was near enough to reach out and touch him. I waited. He looked my way. I smiled. Watery, gray eyes, tired from travel, or perhaps from life, smiled back. He sat in an airport wheelchair, looking uncomfortable, hands shaking, alone. I can't remember how the conversation started. I have waited to write this, as my heart goes raw and emotions rise up that I would rather not feel.
I don't like alone, especially when an older person is involved in the alone.
Quickly we fell into conversation. I let him talk, share, which turned into mourning, perhaps for both of us. I mourned for him, his loss, his future, my losses. Seeing life as a fragile mirror, which when broken can cut us to the quick with its many shards. Often, we never see it coming, the breaking, splintering, until we are covered in cuts and blood. He didn't see it coming.
He told me how he had lost his sweet wife of 59 years. He came home one day and she was on the floor, paralyzed. Diagnosed with a brain tumor. She didn't last but a day. Without a goodbye, I love you, a kiss.
He has not recovered. He is reeling from grief. He fell sick, in the hospital for 18 days. Still healing, if you can heal from this. He talks about his daughters, their sweet care for him. They do not live nearby. He is blessed he says, but he is overcome with heartache. He cries repeatedly. I find this lump in my throat that I cannot swallow. I listen. I smile. I touch his arm. I am crying.
He offers me a peach to share, then a slice of coffee cake. Both from his daughter in Michigan, where he has left at 5 a.m. this morning. It is now 10 p.m., too many hours for this man to be alone. I question how you could send this man to fly home alone. I could not. I would not. I stop judging. I have only a glimpse into this life I am meeting.
He has spent many weeks with this daughter, recuperating, healing. I am not seeing evidence of healing, only raw pain.
I get him napkins for his peach. I offer to get some dinner for us. He declines.
I throw away tissues from his tears, his peach pit, napkins from wiped hands and noses. I wish I could throw away his pain.
I ask his wife's name, about their life. He talks about life, as a husband, a dad, a salesman. A good life he has lived. He is grateful, yet undeniably worn out from his loss, and fearful of his future.
I share some of my life and loss. Will it help him to know that I have felt this pain ... though I was 28 with a newborn? I want to console and reassure him that life goes on. But, I struggle here. We have shared a bit of the same path, but this is his pain, his journey, his grief. He is not a young man. I must be gentle. He will not marry again, have more children, experience joy as he knew it.
Does he have hope? I don't see evidence. My heart feels crushed ... and I am surprised by the depth of my sadness.
We call his daughter to let her know that he has been delayed. We call the friends picking him up at the airport. We use my phone. His is packed in his suitcase.
This seems too much for a man his age, fragile both in form and soul. I am thinking if this had been my dad ... yet my dad is the one who left us a few months ago. Hardly time for goodbye, I love you, a kiss. I am mourning.
I check with the attendants at the desk, making sure they will guide him on to the plane first. They had forgotten and seem grateful for the reminder. We prepare him. I tell him I will check on him when I board. Later, I will turn in my seat many times, smile and then watch his head slump over from exhaustion.
I gather my thoughts as he thanks me through tears. For what, I ask myself? Showing a moment of kindness? We part. I stand in line.
A handsome, well-dressed man comes up beside me and speaks quietly in my ear. He thanks me. He had been watching and listening. I try and gather myself, struggling again with raw emotion. I look at this man with gentle eyes and I mumble some of the man's story and that I understand a bit of his pain. The man tilts his head and tells me he also knows this pain.
We all three have lost mates. Two of us as young lovers and one sweet couple as soul mates, woven together through years of joy and heartache. I can no longer speak. We nod our heads, understanding we have shared a similar grief in our journeys.
I think of this dear old man almost daily. My heart aches for him and those who mourn loved ones lost. Yet, is that not every one of us?
He brought me a gift, by opening himself, shedding tears, in front of all to see. We cared for one another in the two hours we shared. I will forever remember him. My hope is that it will be a powerful reminder to love better, quicker, without thought. To love as God calls me. A small moment that left a huge impression on me. To simply care for another.
I do not understand why I was drawn to this man, this conversation, this moment. It was not my choice, that much I know. It was one of the clearest calls I have experienced from God and I followed it. Most of these opportunities I have missed. I am selfish by nature, minding my own business, keeping my head down.
Perhaps we are not called to that kind of life. It's empty and lonely. One thing that matters in our lives are the relationships we grow. To invest in one another is the blessing that lasts.
Rest easy dear man. May you be comforted in your sorrow today and may we always love one another.
I will never regret the times I was generous, only greedy.
Dale Carroll-Coleman, a freelance writer who blogs at http://www.majorinthegraceofgod.blogspot.com, spent 16 years in Champaign with her husband, where they raised two children. They now reside in Wichita, Kan.