A Stranger’s Birthday

Last week while in the grocery store with my sister, an elderly gentleman approached me

Birthday Cake

Birthday Cake (Photo credit: Will Clayton)

as I was walking towards my empty cart from the Customer Service counter.  He held in his hands a small sheet cake, which he held out to me and asked me, “How does my cake look? Is it nice?”

It was a beautiful, simple sheet cake with multi-colored mylar ribbons in one corner. I replied, “Yes, it’s very nice. What’s the occasion?”

He stated that his daughter had bought him this cake for his 79th birthday tomorrow and she told him not to peek. We smiled at each other conspiratorially.

And then he said, “There must have been something wrong in my head when I was a teenager.”

“Why?” I asked.

“Because I never thought I’d live past 40 because I could not imagine what my life would be like and so I figured I’d never live that long.”

My mouth gaped open as I stared at him in utter disbelief.  I sputtered, “Me too!”

I have told countless people that same thing. I clearly remember in my teens, thinking I’d never live past 30 because in my teens I could not imagine what my life would be like past that age.  Not once has anyone I’ve ever met ever hinted at similar feelings and in fact every person I’ve told that to  looked at me in incredulous disbelief. Yet, here was this stranger, on the brink of his 79th birthday, echoing my very same thoughts at approximately the same age I had them.

His daughter approached us just then and he indicated that she was the  youngest of his three daughters.  She was staring at her receipt and didn’t make eye contact with me until I said hello.  And at that time my sister called me back over to the Customer Service counter to finish our business there.

I thought about him and his birthday frequently over the next week. I thought about a seemingly random encounter with a stranger who echoed my same thoughts, decades before I had them. What’s the meaning? I sure don’t know…but people come into our lives for a reason.  Over the past 6 years or so, I’ve kept to myself thinking that at my core I am a recluse. I’ve learned over the last year that people really do need people. That I need good, loving people in my life.  Something in my demeanor communicated openness, or his spirit recognized a kindred spirit and gave me a gift on the eve of his birthday.

No matter how it happened I am grateful to this stranger who shared 5 minutes of his life with me.  Happy Birthday and many, many more to both of us.

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