Recently I wrote about a pleasant visit I had with a lady at a fast-food restaurant. Just a few days later, I witnessed another encounter I want to share with you. I wasn’t involved in this one. In fact, to be totally honest, I was an eavesdropper. But it made quite an impression on me, and I had to tell someone about it. It might as well be you, right?
As I was winding my way through the aisles of a supermarket, I noticed an elderly man. I gave him a second look because I thought I knew him. It turned out I did not. We went our separate ways, and a few minutes later I was turning a corner and overheard a conversation.
I soon realized it was the man talking to three girls. I think they were teenagers. They could have been sisters, or friends, or classmates. They were casually dressed, and one was even sitting in the shopping cart, as kids do sometimes. I’m not sure how the conversation started, I was a little late for that. The man was doing most of the talking, and the girls were listening, really listening. They were even laughing occasionally.
I had to stop and listen for a bit, because this was so unusual. Do young people really take a break from their supermarket “run” to chat with a total stranger? Especially these days, when so many faces are tilted downward, noses buried in their phones.
Maybe he accidentally bumped into their shopping cart. Or he might have asked for help finding something. No matter what initiated the conversation, it was lively. The girls had stopped what they were doing to listen to the man.
He told them he was 87. He said he wasn’t used to grocery shopping. His wife had always taken care of such details, but now she was unable to do so. “We’ve been married for 64 years,” he said proudly. His life used to be quite busy, he said. His days were once filled with work and travel, but now he mostly cleans house and does the cooking. The girls looked him in the eye, asked some questions, and made a few comments. It was not a one-sided conversation. The young girls were not looking past him, or through him. They were looking right at him.
The man was quite a talker. He was animated and entertaining. Maybe I’m assuming too much, but I got the impression he doesn’t get to engage in many conversations these days. He seemed to relish the opportunity to socialize, to give and take. Although he didn’t say it, I suspect he is like many of his generation. “Till death do us part.” It is possible his wife is unable to communicate, and he lives most of his life in silence. Sadly, there often comes a time when we are no longer able to share our stories, memories and laughs.
By the end of this brief chat, everyone involved was smiling, especially the older man. If only for a few minutes, the toll of 87 years had been lessened. There was a little extra spring in his step. These young people wanted to hear his story.
Again, I’m basing this on a relatively brief, overheard conversation. But that’s the way it seemed to me.
Why is this story worthy of your time? It certainly is not news, and much of what I’ve written is pure speculation on my part. I suppose I could have snapped a candid photo of this encounter. It was in a very public place. I just didn’t want to intrude by being “that guy” who distracts folks in the middle of something special. Besides, in a world where we take pictures of everything, some events should just be allowed to happen.
To me, it was a remarkable moment. How many of us would try to avoid eye contact with an elderly man, and do whatever is possible to rush forward and act like we didn’t hear his attempt to ask a question, or start a conversation? Young people, in particular, are stereotyped as being self-centered and disconnected. What I saw gave me a flicker of hope. It is cause for celebration. Someone still listens, if even for five minutes. Someone still cares.
Was this story worth sharing? I think so. And if you read this “non-news” story all the way to the end, you’re pretty special yourself. Thank you for reading. I had to tell somebody about it.