The Pain that Walks through the Front Door

I needed somebody to fix something in my house. I called a repairman. He said he could come out in two hours. In spite of having hoped to get some solid, uninterrupted time to concentrate on some projects, I said, "Come on over."

He did.

I was business-like and, I hope, pleasant enough. But I wasn't particularly warm or curious about him or about his life experience. I was thinking I just needed the toilet to stop leaking.

As he was leaving, somehow a conversation about his car having been wrecked turned into an admission that it hadn't exactly been a good season. His wife died on Christmas morning. In the midst of having the ambulance come to get her, it was discovered that he had too many cats, and so they were taken away too. His son moved away recently, leaving him without a car, and his other two children have had rough break-ups, one just yesterday.

Thanks to my son, Charlie Umhau, for sharing this sketch he did, one that comes to mind in circumstance after circumstance. For more of his work, see https://www.instagram.com/thecowboyprince/.

Thanks to my son, Charlie Umhau, for sharing this sketch he did, one that comes to mind in circumstance after circumstance. For more of his work, see https://www.instagram.com/thecowboyprince/.

He said, "I'm doing a little better, but for a long time I just cried." I said, "Well I'm going to cry now." And I did. 

I had almost let a grieving person walk in and out of my house without hearing his story and naming the pain of it. And letting him see my tears on his behalf. 

I hope he felt a little less alone to tell someone, but I almost missed seeing his brave face and watching him walk slowly to his company van, heading home to ... what? 

I just wanted the toilet fixed and wasn't much thinking about the human who would come and do it.

But now I am.

 

He ate alone.

A friend and I were in a café eating Tater-Tots (really). Cold Tater-Tots actually. The food's not great but the people who work there are, so we go often. And sit at the same table.

One day a guy who looked like an acquaintance of mine walked in. And sat nearby. I thought it might even be the guy I sort of knew. So I was staring. But he looked bad, not enough like himself for me to be sure.

He spoke to me, because it was the guy. And we bantered back and forth a minute. He told us that it was his birthday and he was treating himself to a birthday breakfast.

We wished him a "happy birthday" and went back to our Tater-Tots and conversation. 

I thought about asking the acquaintance to join us but when I looked over to do it he had his eyes closed in what looked like deep prayer, so I left him alone.

Later in the day I went on his Facebook page to say that I'd wished I'd asked him to join us. And there I saw the notice that his son had died, the day before. Unexpectedly. At age 23.

And I'd missed the chance to sit with a grieving father who ate alone on his birthday, the day after his namesake died.

And that's not okay. 

New policy: err on the side of asking someone to join me. And let them, not me, decide.

May we never eat alone when we don't want to.