The other day an old lady tried to touch my face at the DI (thrift store). Somewhere between the abandoned Health Riders and vintage suitcases our paths crossed. She slowly shuffled toward me in her red house dress, and I noticed her wispy gray hair and the almost transparent nature of her skin. She seemed too fragile to be wandering such a junk cluttered aisle. I pressed myself into the exercise equipment so she could pass by me, but instead she reached for me. Not in a creepy way. Her hand gently moved toward my face in a slow, loving way; as if I were her child.
What should I do? I thought. My brain tried to process the appropriate reaction to being touched by a stranger at the DI. Honestly, I'm surprised it has never happened before. Anyway, before her hand reached my cheek it was caught and gently retracted by the young woman who walked beside her, and apologies followed. No need to be sorry, I said and they continued their tedious journey.
I instantly felt a twinge of regret, really strange regret. If only she would have said something to me, I thought.
When Jonah was a few months old I had a similar moment while we waited in a hospital. I wrote the following about it in my journal:
We went to see Dr. M today and had to wait for a long time in the hospital hallway. This elderly woman was wheeled by and it was clear she had some dementia. She kept asking if she knew the people in the hallway and her son said "no mom...you don't know any of these people."
Then they went further down the hall. A few minutes later while her son was distracted she made her way back down towards us, slowly using her feet to move the wheelchair forward. She stopped right in front of us and smiled at Jonah. He gave her a big smile. I told her his name and asked her what her name was. She said "Beverly."
Then she said, "Does he (Jonah) have a hole in his mouth?"
A little taken aback I said, "yes...he does...how did you know."
She said, "Because I know him, he is my relative."
It was pretty crazy. I don't know how she would know that or even ask about it. You can't see it from the outside. I like to think that Beverly does know him!
As I continued my search through second-hand clothes and mismatched dishes I thought, What if I missed a Beverly moment? What if this seemingly senile woman in her red dress had something important to tell me; something that she could see that I could not. I wondered if she could have given me a message about Jonah, or about God, or about my life. I find that in my grief I am constantly looking for experiences to reinforce my belief in an afterlife...some sort of evidence that can transform my hope into faith and understanding.
I like the idea that those who seem to lose their grasp of this life have a greater understanding of the next. I loved that even if she did not have a message for me, this sweet old woman felt moved to reach for a stranger. Perhaps she craved the softness of human touch. Maybe she could see the invisible heartache that is buried in me and felt compassion. Or maybe she knew me...like Beverly knew Jonah. Maybe we are related.