Many years ago, I drove my son to school one morning. It was a wet and miserably cold day. I planned to immediately return home to a fresh pot of coffee. Leaving the school, I put on the blinker to turn back into my neighborhood, but suddenly felt I should go to the diner instead. The diner was a converted fast food restaurant with huge windows surrounding the eating area, and a long counter separating it from the kitchen. The windows were all frosted over and the flashing neon signs and headlights made moving abstract images of varying designs. Going through the door I caught the faint odor of bleach they had used to clean the floor, and the ammonia spray for their tables. It quickly disappeared as I approached the counter to pour a steaming cup of coffee. Taking it to a booth, I thought this was so silly not to go home where I could be comfortable.
Several early morning customers came in, apparently knowing each other, but politely bid me a good morning. I looked up to see an old man coming in, he was maybe six feet tall, but extremely thin. I recognized him as a long-since retired man that frequented all the twenty-four hour stores along the main street. He drove an antique truck, wore bluejeans, boots and a cowboy hat. That morning he also wore a long black wool coat. He started dancing around trying to get his coat off. One guy offered to help him. “Naw, I can get it.”
With his coat finally peeled off, he started relating how he had already hurt his chest the week before trying to take it off. He wasn’t talking to anyone in particular. When he poured his coffee, he turned around to survey the room and came to sit in the booth next to me, chatting somewhat with the group of men. After he drank about a half cup, he looked over at me. He started talking, but I couldn’t hear him.
I said, “Do you want me to sit with you?”
“Yes, please.” I slipped into his booth on the opposite side. When I looked up, I noticed his eyes were moist, his skin was ashen pale.
I asked, “Can I drive you to your doctor, or do you want me to call an ambulance? I think you need medical attention.”
“No, please. I don’t need a doctor.”
My perception of the room closed in a fog – my world became just two people, as time stood still. I reached both my hands across the table to touch his. They were cold, but strong. As he held my hands he started talking, with his head slightly bowed. I did not understand a word he said, until he looked up at me to ask, “Are you an angel?”
“No, I’m not an angel, but I have a message for you.” Tears started running down his thin face. I smiled, and had no idea why.
He said, “You’re right, no need for more tears. Tell me.”
“I am here to assure you not to be afraid on your journey. You need to know that you are precious and God loves you.” He slowly withdrew his hands from mine. His face totally relaxed as he took a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his eyes and blow his nose.
My perception of the diner returned. He appeared calm and got up to get another cup of coffee. It was time for me to leave.
Back in the car, I drove home wondering what had just happened, and it was not making sense.
The next morning I had to have closure, information or something – anything. After I dropped my son at school, I returned to the diner. I did not see the old man’s truck. As I walked in the door, the same group of men were there.
“Hey, lady, we didn’t know anyone talked to that old man. He’s grouchy most of the time.”
I responded, “Have you seen him today?”
“You don’t know?”
I questioned, “Know what?”
One man said, “I’m so sorry, he died two hours after you left yesterday. We didn’t know you were his friend.”
I turned around and went back to my car. Sitting there looking at the flashing sign, I felt a strange combination of loss and peace. After several minutes, I slowly drove home.
I’m not sure how to categorize or tag this piece. I appreciate any suggestions? It is a true story in my life.