There is a theory espoused by some that there is actually a parallel/alternate experience of life that is running concurrently with the one we are aware of, and that if we could become aware of it as well, it would give us the experiences to which our alternate choices had opened the door. Of course, I realize, according to the Word of God, that concept is not a reality, but I am still aware that had I made just one or two choices differently – even the choice of what street to walk down, or what restaurant to visit, or what time of day I went to the library – a hundred things in my life might be completely different.
The reality of this truth came home to me quite unexpectedly, and quite dramatically, one day a few years ago when I encountered a stranger in a fast food restaurant. I’ve been fleetingly aware of other such experiences during my life, but this particular time, I was so touched by it, and my life so affected by it, that I immediately wrote it down and saved it, so that it would remain a part of who I am from that moment on. I shared it on this site at the time it happened, but it seems appropriate to give it a fresh airing in light of today’s prompt.
WHERE DID I MISS YOU?
I didn’t notice him as I entered the fast food restaurant. His table was to my right as I entered the door. And he wasn’t in my line of vision as I stood in line at the counter, so I don’t know if he had noticed me as I came in or not. But as I carried my sack over to the end of the shelf where the napkins were located, I glanced up and met his eyes. It was for only the briefest second, because it was one of those situations where you know you’ve made contact, but you don’t know why and aren’t sure how to react. So you swiftly shift your eyes to the side, pretending to look at other things — as if you had just been letting your eyes sweep the area in general.
Why we do that I don’t know. Maybe it’s a reaction only in those of us who have a measurable lack of self-confidence. Whatever the reason, though, I knew I had reacted that way when I really hadn’t wanted to do so.
But I felt the pull of his personality so strongly that I almost felt as if I’d insulted him by not smiling at him when our eyes had touched so fleetingly. Thinking it may have been just my imagination, I glanced his way again and found him looking at me again as well. But, again, I broke contact within mere seconds. And, once again, I was sorry. I now felt the pull of him so strongly that I knew I had to do something to connect with him, if only for one smile.
It was easier than I had expected, because at the table closest to his sat an old friend of mine. I usually tried to speak briefly to her whenever I saw her anywhere, so I decided I’d walk over to her table, necessarily passing by his.
As I stepped past his table, my eyes still wouldn’t connect with his. So I just looked right at my friend and spoke. “How are you doing, Betty?”
“I’m doing fine. How are you?”
“I’m fine too. I’ll be even better after I eat this,” I added whimsically, holding up my sack. I glanced his way, and he was looking at me. He smiled. I smiled. He could hear every word I said clearly. I looked back to Betty, still holding my sack out in front of me. Then facing Betty, but letting my eyes drift in his direction, I focused on his left hand. He did have on a gold ring, but whether it was actually a wedding band or not I couldn’t tell. It was best if I didn’t know for sure anyway, but … disappointment pierced through me. It was a brief, stabbing feeling, and then sort of a dull resignation took its place.
But somehow, I just couldn’t quite let go of him yet. I held up my sack again – in Betty’s direction: “I don’t really need this … but … then again, I guess I do need it” was my next inane addition to the conversation. I glanced at him again, as if to include him in this “high-level” discussion. He understood. So I took advantage of that moment to look at him more closely.
There was nothing extraordinarily attractive about him. I mean he wasn’t the kind of man you’d naturally notice because he was gorgeous or was dressed in the height of fashion. His African-American complexion wasn’t ebony, but it was darker than brown. He had on a kind of knit cap that covered most of his short-cropped hair. His beard was mostly gray and extremely neat, but even though the beard was gray, the face was young. He was obviously overweight. Not fat, but certainly not sporting the kind of physique that normally caught a woman’s attention.
But it was his eyes and his smile. Or maybe it was his smile and his eyes. It doesn’t matter which, because his smile was so warm and genuine that it filled his eyes as well as his mouth. And it was that smile that made him really attractive — not the physical smile — the part of it that came from his soul. It was his soul that was in his eyes, and there was an invitation there: “I could sit and talk to you and understand you,” it said. “And you would understand me. We’d be friends.”
By that time (barely seconds) Betty was responding to my convoluted statement about the need for food, and she answered, “Yeah … you have to eat to live.” Brilliant answer!
“Right,” I said, looking back at my new friend. His smile was even sweeter — and even more inviting. He knew I wouldn’t — and couldn’t — sit down and talk to him. Why not? Because we had no connector. We had no tiny moment from our past that could have provided even the thinnest thread of oneness. We had just this one minuscule moment — taken out of time — to recognize, to dream, to wish. But his smile let me know that he had enjoyed talking to me vicariously and hoped that I had felt the same.
I smiled at him as generously as I knew how, hoping my message was in my own eyes: “I wish things were different. I wish I could sit down at your table and get to know you. Yes, we’d be friends; I’m sure of it. … Have a good day. Have a good life. … Bye.”
I walked out the door — sadder than when I’d walked in — poorer because of knowing there was a rich friendship out there that I would never own. Where in my life did I choose a path that put me in the position of never meeting him until today? Where did I miss finding him at a time when I could have known him, owned him as a friend, and had my life woven in with his? I wish I knew. No … I wish I’d known then … and I would have chosen differently.