I admit it; I am one of those “friendly” people who will strike up a conversation with a total stranger, much to the chagrin of my family. For me, though, the opportunity to connect with another makes an ordinary day enjoyable. One day, though, I learned the real value simple human contact could have.
I was at the grocery store, armed with my list (which I seem to treat as just a starting point) and an empty shopping cart. Parked by the bananas, I reached over a hand to snag my perfect bunch (not too ripe, no bruises, about the shade of a honeydew) and reflexively smiled at its owner. I noticed he was considerably shorter than I and wore a fraying greek fishing hat. We met again in pasta; he was staring intently at the interminable array of boxes and varieties. “Can I help you find something?” I asked. “Linguine,” he mumbled, not looking at me. I thought I detected an accent of some sort. I found the linguine in short order and pointed it out, smiling again. He picked up a box and placed it carefully in his cart, walking away without a word. I saw that his pants were quite baggy, the seat almost worn through, his legs slightly bowed. The soles of his shoes were worn at an angle.
He was there again by the meat section; I almost ran into him as I pushed my cart while reading the meat labels. I smiled apologetically. He seemed unaware.
Our eyes met in the cereal aisle. I was reaching for a box of Cheerios and glanced up to find myself gazing straight into dark brown eyes framed in a deeply creased but handsome face. For a moment, we both paused. I smiled; the corners of his mouth turned up ever so slightly.
Standing in line at the checkout I turned to find him standing behind me. “Well, I guess we just can’t avoid each other, ” I said in a light tone noting the few neatly arranged items in his cart. He smiled; a real smile this time, unguarded; then it was gone. “I lost my wife six months ago,” he said quietly. “We were married for 48 years. I miss her.” I reached out and placed my hand on his arm. “I am so sorry.” “Thank you,” he replied, and our eyes met once more. For a moment I saw him as the young man he had been on his wedding day, standing tall and proud, beaming next to his fresh faced bride.
I watched as he slowly walked through the parking lot, a single brown bag tucked neatly under one arm; I would not forget him.