And Now for Something Completely Different

I can't believe I forgot to relate the strange encounter I had at work yesterday. That was way more interesting than all that other blather. It was fresher in my mind yesterday, obviously, but I'll do my best to retell it.

O.K., so after I'd finished my afternoon training around 4:30, I took a trip out to the ladies' room. I say "out" because after the merger, where we downsized our office by half, they had to build public restrooms on the ground floor so we could share them with the tenant that took the space we didn't need anymore. We used to occupy the entire ground floor and had restrooms within our office, but now we have to go out to the lobby and use our access cards to come back into the office. Fun.

Now that we have public restrooms, we never know who or what awaits us in the restroom. Nothing criminal has happened, thankfully, but people treat it like, well, a public restroom, and it's usually not an acceptable level of clean in there. And pretty often, people are using the facilities while on their cell phones. Which I thought was the case when I heard a woman's voice while I was in one of the stalls. Then she said something else, which made me think, "Oh, man, is she talking to me? I don't feel like having a conversation right now, with a complete stranger." So I didn't respond.

She finished up before I did, and I heard her washing her hands. When I came out, she was standing there, a petite, elderly black woman in white pants and a white tank up, with dark glasses, her short caramel hair brushed back from her face, looking around the room.

"Where's the trash can?" she asked me, and she held up a balled-up paper towel.
"Oh, right behind you, under the paper towel dispenser," I told her. "I know, it's hard to see."
She thanked me and threw out her trash. "I'm just waiting for my daughter to finish work," she added. "My husband's out there keeping me company." I realized I had seen her and a man sitting on one of the benches in the lobby when I'd walked out the office door.

"She's my baby daughter," she continued. "My youngest is 45. I have six children, ten grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren." I said that was great. I was going to add that my parents love being grandparents, but she went on: "I died in 2001." Huh?

"My heart stopped on the operating table." As she explained, she pulled the neck of her tank top to the side, to show me the scar on her chest. It looked papery and fragile, quivering and puckered at the edges, a lighter brown than the skin surrounding it. I almost wanted to touch it, to see what it felt like. I didn't understand all the medical terms she threw out there, and there were quite a few, but apparently the organ was in a great deal of distress--bad ventricles and the like. "But I came back. Apparently, God had more planned for me, so I'm still here."

"That's amazing," I told her, and I smiled back at her smile. We walked out to the lobby together, and she said, "Oh, thank you for listening to me. You have a blessed day." I thanked her and returned the good wishes.

O.K., so on the one hand: TMI. But on the other hand: That was cool. I can't explain why, but it was. And not the first time random people have come up to me out of nowhere during stressful times. About this time three years ago, I was sitting my car in the parking lot of my bank across the street, and I was sobbing because I had paid a bill too early, and didn't have enough to take care of other expenses before my next paycheck. I had mistakenly sent the bill in early because I was in a daze from all the emotional pain of a bad breakup and my family being torn to shreds by one member's problems. I was so confused and angry with myself that I just sat there and wept. You know when you get to the point where you're so upset you can't even think clearly so you know what you're going to do? Yeah, that upset.

Next thing I knew, there was a voice at the window. "Are you all right?" asked a middle-aged woman. She probably thought I was injured, the way I was sobbing. I told her the stupid thing I'd done. When you have to explain it to someone, you get clearer-headed pretty fast. I told her I'd be O.K., and my parents would help me out. She seemed satisfied with that, and then she asked if she could pray for me. I said sure.

So right then she launches into a prayer, out loud. That kind of startled me. I guess I'm kind of used to the way people say they'll pray for you--and then they go off and do it privately. But no, there I was, a startled white Catholic kid from the 'burbs, listening to this woman ask the Lord to take care of me. Surreal stuff.

Some people, like my dad, rarely go somewhere without running into someone they know. But me, well, I get something completely different. I'd call them encounters with random strangers; however, sometimes I think they're not so. . . random. And just maybe my guardian angel looks more like Della Reese than Roma Downey.

(Oh, and last night I had one of those dreams that was very bizarre and yet felt very real. I woke up wondering if the young man with the blond crewcut and freckles sprinkled across his nose and cheeks, who was wearing what looked like a soccer uniform to Mass, might be my future husband. I'd be O.K. with that. He had strong, comforting arms. Hope he has an appreciation of the random.)


Dave E. said…
You almost lost me with "elderly" and "tank top", but since I hung with it I would just put in a pitch for random kindness and how just being nice to people is an important and somewhat unappreciated part of making life good and decent for people. The strength one gets from having a random stranger show that they respect and/or care can be powerful. Nobody should pass up the opportunity to give it, even if it it seems a little goofy at the time.
Kate P said…
Yeah, how often do YOU get pseudo-flashed in the restroom?

Wait, don't answer that.

Seriously, you made me think about something--as a kid growing up in the '80s I was taught to be wary of strangers. Taking public transportation reinforced that wariness to the nth degree. So I guess it really is a rarity to have a positive interaction with someone you don't know. At least to me, anyway.

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