I work at the YMCA Monday-Tuesday from 5am-8am to make a little extra cash on the side and it helps pay for my membership. In the few months I have been there I have experienced a few divine encounters that have left me in mourning at how people hurt. I call them divine encounters not because I meet the divine face-to-face but because I believe God places me in that situation to be present with someone in their deep anguish.
In walks Doug (not his real name but we will call him Doug). Doug has come to the Y now for a couple of months and he always has the greatest smile on his face and greets me with the warmth only a Krispe Kreme doughnut could bring. Whenever I say, “How are you doing?” I know that his usual “I am doing really well” is an honest answer not rehearsed for trite conversation. He means it. Today Doug was leaving the Y and wanted some coffee but he was waiting on the fresh decaffeinated coffee I was brewing. So I made short conversation.
“Beautiful day isn’t it?” With a smile he said, “Absolutely gorgeous. I am going to go play a round of golf after this.” “I wish I could go,” I said. “I used to play a lot but with four kids six and under golfing is one of those things that is taken off the list. I got to have my priorities. I am a dad first.”
What he said next I was not ready for…
“You definitely have your priorities straight. I lost two kids in the span of nine months so cherish each moment that you have with them because you never know when it will be your last.”
My heart broke. I wanted to cry, give him a hug and pray with him on the spot. The amount of pain this man has endured cannot be expressed in words. All I could say was, “I am so sorry.”
I stepped away and did a few things then I walked back because I couldn’t let the awkwardness of that conversation get between an opportunity to just be present with this man so I asked him, “How long ago was this?” I acted like I was cleaning something beside the coffee so I could mask the desire to be close to this man.
“My youngest son died of colon cancer when he was only 21. That was back in 1997. Then nine months almost to the day later my oldest son died in a car accident.”
“I am so sorry,” I muttered in obvious nervousness since I really did not know what to say. “I guess you play golf as a release?” He answered, “Yeah but the important thing is that I have to be around people.” The next question I asked floored me, “Did you have any other kids?” He said, “No, that was it.”
That was it…
Three words that evoked more pain, anguish and sorrow than I have ever experienced. In a span of nine months this man goes from having a wonderful family full of promise to just he and his wife. I prayed for Doug. I now have perspective when each day he tells me that he is doing really well. I now understand that people have different levels of pain that they experience and we all assume that everybody is OK.
Doug is a great guy. I hope he gets to see his boys some day.
Pretty sure I met Job this morning.