This One Moment
Almost every Sunday morning at 10:30, I am confronted with the same choice. I drop the kids off at Sunday school at 10:30, and I can either attend 11:00 mass, or I can run errands until pick-up time at 12:00. This morning, because of the particularly hectic week we had, I chose the errands. My two unconditional duties of this particular Sunday were grocery shopping and laundry, and, being plum out of detergent, the latter necessitated the former. And so my choice was made.
Like most moms I know, I’ve got the weekly Ralphs thing down to a slick 45 minutes. With a full cart, I double check the list, and remember to go back to the meat section to select tonight’s dinner. And it is there that the most wonderful thing happened.
An elderly man approached me, pushing his cart. Clean cut, about my height, beautiful skin, gray hair, small mustache. He said, “Excuse me, but I have to tell you something.”
Now, females endure a lifetime of strange men approaching them. Immediately, our fortress goes up. We have a mere few seconds in which to evaluate the situation to determine the nature of the encroachment: attack or compliment? Lewd or sincere? Potentially embarrassing? Potentially an opportunity to be helpful? To point to the detergent aisle?
This moment was none of these.
“Excuse me, but I have to tell you something,” he says. “I was listening to the radio on the way here and I heard the most beautiful lines of poetry,” he says.
Standing in the meat department, with my tri-tip selection in hand, I am sure I have never before heard this opening line. In my few-second evaluation, I realize I am being given a gift. Time stops.
“The lines went like this,” he says, and repeats the four lines of poetry he heard on the radio this morning. For the life of me now, as I retell this tale, I can’t remember them. Something about a man being able to fight in the Spanish war and sail through the roughest seas but still unable to entangle the woman from his thoughts. Four lines. That was all. Beautiful.
“Wasn’t that lovely?” the man asks me. I smile and nod, my tri-tip still in hand. “I just heard it on the radio this morning,” he explains, “and I had to share it with somebody.”
The elderly man continues, “You know, I’m 85, and after I got out of the service in 1945, I studied poetry and music for a while. Oh, how I loved all the big bands. And that poem sounded to me like something that I would have heard long ago.”
My eyes well up. I have so many questions for him. “I just wanted to tell somebody,” he says again.
“Well, you picked the right girl,” say I. “I was a high school English teacher for awhile. I love poetry, too.” And he smiles.
“Who’s your favorite poet?” I ask, the only question I get a chance to ask.
“Oh,” he says, shaking his head. “Oh, I couldn’t say. There are too many good ones. No, I couldn’t say.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I respond. I really do.
“Well, thanks for listening. You have a good day, now,” he says, and proceeds to push his cart away from me, into another anonymous aisle of this anonymous grocery store.
I am done with my shopping. I push my cart through the check-out, unload the groceries into my car, and now I am weeping as I drive home. He just wanted to share a few lines of poetry with somebody, something that reminded him of long ago. And he chose me, and I don’t know if he could have chosen anyone more appropriate in the whole damn grocery store. And I had just returned to the meat department for a moment.
Of everything that happened in my life this week: Ronan’s action–packed birthday party, Gabriel’s visit to the kids’ classrooms on St. Patrick’s Day, our incredibly musical house concert, and a festive Swallows Day, this one moment was the most poignant. In skipping 11:00 mass, I was presented – no, I was gifted – with a more singularly fulfilling moment than I could have orchestrated, or predicted, or hoped. In this moment, fate triumphed choice, gallantly.
I wish I could remember his exact lines now. But alas, they are lost again.