One year ago tonight, I took the boys to dinner. As Jack was making his salad, an elderly gentleman with a walker was trying with some effort to open the door.
Without my prompting, the boys rushed to open the door for him. He seemed genuinely touched and told me what gentlemen they were.
For some reason, I could not stop glancing over at the man as he waited for his takeout order at a nearby table. Perhaps it was his eyes which bespoke a quiet, gentle loneliness. I know that look.
I have felt it.
And I wanted to do something to ease it.
As we were paying, I asked the waitress to put his tab on my bill anonymously. The boys were oddly overwhelmed by this and asked if they could pay for his dinner with their own money. I felt proud of their reaction to be sure. But I also felt…uncomfortable.
It is nice to pay for someone’s dinner. To pay for their coffee. To give anonymously. But if we’re honest with ourselves, that’s often the easy way out. We can pat ourselves on the back for doing something good without having to get involved.
But sometimes what people really need is not a 5 dollar cup of coffee, but 5 minutes of human connection.
So I listened to the discomfort and walked over to his table to say hello. We chatted for quite awhile, about the holidays, the new Star Wars movie, his tenure chairing the Biology Department at ODU, and his grandkids.
He said, my wife and I had 6 children. I lost her this year, he added quietly.
He held my gaze and I saw the loneliness from earlier in his eyes. But I also saw something else.
What was her name? I asked. Somehow it was important for me to know. And I knew it was important for him to say it.
Mary, he replied. We were together for 63 years.
I held out my hand and said, I’m Cameron. He looked me in the eye and said, I’m Joseph.
And then he laughed – a big, full laugh – as the looks registered on our faces. Yes, he said, Mary and Joseph.
He did not let go of my hand, even as he turned and looked at the boys and told them what joy they had brought him. Perhaps he had sensed something in my eyes too.
Later, when we were bundled up in bed together, all of the feelings that had been roiling around inside me seeped out of my pores and sat on top of my skin.
The boys asked why I was crying and I told them simply that sometimes God brings people across our paths for a reason.
I don’t talk about religion much but I do not doubt that we were meant to meet this man, this Joseph and his Mary.
To remind me that we are all walking through the night, tired and alone, in need of a place to rest our heads and our hearts.
To remind me that all of us who have lost someone we love are part of a team. We don’t have uniforms, we don’t have a coach, and we certainly don’t have a game plan. But we can recognize each other.
To remind me that it is our job to be the innkeeper who opens the door.
It is so much easier to be the innkeeper who says, I’m sorry. We don’t have any room. It’s not my problem. It’s not my business. I’m too busy.
But that night I was reminded of what happens when you open the door and say, I will find a place for you. I will make room.
That night we were the innkeeper who said yes. But so was Joseph. That night we walked each other home.
Love hard friends. And always be the innkeeper holding the light who says yes…