But the moment I approached, a 60-something, ruddy-skinned man with dancing eyes shot a smile at me. His companion, a blonde-haired woman with a round face, offered me a warm glance.
“Please, please, have a seat,” he gestured. “Are you local?”
“Why, yes. Are you?”
“No, we’re from down south. From the desert. Visiting.”
And so it went. I didn’t intend to get into a conversation, but Fred’s ebullient nature made it tough to resist.
Drifting into Culture and Ethnicity
Within a moment, somehow we began talking about ethnic backgrounds.
“You see, I’m Mexican and German. She’s Irish. What about you?”
I shared about my Italian/German/Czech background. We began to explore the ways these cultures impact us.
“Pam here, she thinks I’m too friendly and laid back. The Mexican in me comes out too strong,” he winked.
Then she piped up. “You’re so friendly to strangers, when we go places I sometimes feel as if I’m all alone.” Interesting.
But then I sought to engage them both. If this was a conversation destined to happen, and even if it was going to impact my work time, I was going to make sure I was interacting with both.
As we pondered issues of ethnicity, I made some reference to marriage. Not sure if they were married, I wanted to not immediately assume.
Then it got intriguing
“Actually, we got married two years ago. In Maui. On the exact same day, 43 years earlier, when we were supposed to marry, but didn’t,” Pam offered.
So, what happened?
“We each had married before. And both of our spouses died about 2 ½ years ago. Within days of each other,” Fred shared. “Pam and I were high school sweethearts, you see. We planned to marry each other, and then Vietnam got in the way.”
“You see,” he went on, “I came home troubled after Nam. You know, people hated us when we returned. We felt ashamed. That did something to you. I struggled for a long time. Because I realized, I wasn’t fit to marry Pam. It would’ve destroyed her life.”
Wow. Like a bomb.
I inquired if either of them had children. They each had one. And now four grandchildren between them.
God was the Great Matchmaker
“I know God brought us back together all these years later. I believe in destiny. Pure proof. Our kids tell us we should write the story down.”
Pam, the stiffer of the two, first hinted and then said outright, “We should let her do her work, dear. She didn’t come here for this.” I could tell she was at once bemused and exasperated by her husband’s advanced social skills.
“Don’t worry,” I reassured her. “I’ll get the work done. Or not. What I don’t get done probably doesn’t need to get done.
Pam smiled. It was easy to connect with Fred, more difficult with her. But in time, I could see her softening, and we talked a while longer.
She then told her husband that she was going to do a bit more shopping and that he should join her. We said our goodbyes.
God reveals Himself
Fred lingered a bit more. He shared with me, “That Pam. She’s a blessing. But her heart still hurts from the earlier marriage. I’m praying for her.”
I wondered from what faith perspective this man was coming. But without even inquiring, he seemed to read my mind.
“You see, I grew up Catholic. I remember, when my squad was in Nam, faced an ambush, and I sensed the end was near. We hunkered down. I had my rosary around my neck and started praying intensely to God.
Then, I felt this touch. At first, I wondered if it was a Viet Kong, one of the ambushers. But in seconds I realized, it was the touch of God on my life. I felt His destiny pressing in. He assured me, ‘Everything’s gonna be all right. I will spare your life.’
Now, it could’ve been an angel, I guess. But it felt like Jesus.
Even though, when I got back, I struggled for quite awhile. It was years later, we put my son in a local Christian school. Then all those huggers surrounded me. You see, I didn’t experience that in the Catholic church. But all those other parents and staff at the Christian school? They embraced me, my son and my wife. It won over my heart.
And all the sadness came pouring out. God filled it with new joy!”
I looked up. Now I understood the dancing eyes, the twinkle in his glance, the warmth in his demeanor. And I resonated with that.
It was culture, yes. Maybe the warmth and inviting nature of Latino culture, of his Mexican roots. But there was even something more.
God had changed his life. And I got it, because He did the same for me. Destiny. A different story, but a similar outcome.
Final Words…Or, are They?
We parted with the words, “See you in heaven someday!” I didn’t get any further contact information. Though inclined to do so, I resisted this time around. Rather, I simply reveled in the connection and in the moment, glad at the thought of seeing him again someday.
And when we meet, there’ll be that moment: “Where do I know you from?”
“Ah, yes! From that quaint, little coffee shop on a crisp, almost-autumn afternoon.”
Have you ever connected well with a stranger like this? What’s your story?
Image Credit: Sponchia on Pixabay, Creative Commons