I was just quickly grabbing some apples from the produce section, having completed most of my shopping already. An older man – probably in his late seventies – decorated with a veteran hat and plain clothing, asked me which kind I preferred. I replied that I supposed I would go for the Braeburn. He asked me to consider the Gala apples. Afterall, they were less than half the price. I smiled, gave him a friendly glance, and told him he had changed my mind – I would try the Gala today. I thought the exchange would end there.
Looking back, I don’t think it even started there. I think he tried to converse with me on the other side of the produce section over a fallen itemized sign, although I cannot be sure because I did not pay enough attention to my audience. I glazed over that quick communication, thinking nothing more of it than someone wondering what had fallen on the floor, making sure I hadn’t lost something from my cart. This time, I noticed his veteran hat, his blue shirt, and his worn jeans. This time, I stopped to peer into his face. This time, he told me his wife died last March.
How does this happen over apples with a stranger?
As he started the next sentence after we had moved on from the apples, I made a mental note to make sure I thanked him for his service. I asked what he did to celebrate Veteran’s Day. He told me which restaurants he’d gone to this week, with whom…and I think that’s when he started crying. I think that’s when he said he lost his wife this year. So, here I am. Apples in one hand, other hand placed on his back, intending to comfort him, as he tearfully tells me about the hardest year of his life.
I gaze into his eyes, solemnly saying I understand loss because I have experienced it, too. He looks at me, a little confused, and asks if I have lost my husband. With my hand still on his back, I explain that no, I have not lost my husband, but babies. He doesn’t hear what I have said, so he asks me to repeat myself. “BABIES,” I say. In between apples and lemons and grapefruit, I loudly say, “I HAVE LOST BABIES” to him and anyone within ear shot in the supermarket. I wonder who might be listening to our conversation, wondering if this is my grandfather or a family friend, but I don’t look around. It doesn’t really matter.
He understands now. He asks my age. I tell him and he looks surprised I could be so old, as anyone 40+ years younger than him probably starts to blend together in a beautiful, youthful way (well, that’s what I will believe, anyway). He says he will pray for my next babies. He says I should consider having more than one because he has five grandchildren and he loves them just like his children. He says he needs my prayers. He says a lot of other things about heaven and people who don’t know Jesus going to hell and asks me where I go to church and I just let him talk. I nod, I don’t disagree with him because I know the specifics don’t matter*. This connection matters. This moment matters where he feels heard and he can cry with someone instead of crying alone at home like he told me he does “constantly.”
Sometimes, when people ask about apples, they really are just waiting to tell their stories. They are waiting to connect. They are waiting to say, “God bless you” and “Pray for me” and many other pepperings of things that don’t matter outside of context but matter because of the intention…the intention of love…the intention of shaking off our loneliness and trading it in for an exhilarating conversation that is wildly inappropriate by normal standards.
But, who wants to be normal anyway?
*Specifically, though, I do want to use this moment to explain where I stand. Anyone who reads this blog probably knows I believe in a higher power. I practice Catholicism (loosely), but I believe strongly in science reigning everything, an absence of hell, and the complete acceptance/belief of all religions (or even philosophies) founded in love. It’s the rituals and rules that get us into trouble. We all know who/what some of us call God. It’s the deepest part of ourselves. And, for this reason, maybe I can’t be called Catholic, and that’s okay, too. I hate labels anyway. So if you don’t believe in Jesus, that doesn’t bother me. Actually, I don’t think Jesus thinks you need to believe in him either.