The profound power of unexpected encounters

I ran into an acquaintance at the grocery store the other day. I know she is going through a life challenge she could have never expected. My sister is her good friend. I noticed her smile and casual small talk with the woman at the check out. The interaction was unremarkable and friendly.

I called her name, and her expression brightened when she saw me. We walked towards one another and embraced. I hugged her with purpose, wanting her to know I cared for her within the space of her despair. She received my unspoken outreach. I felt her body fall a bit into mine, perhaps giving her a moment of respite from the call to appear normal despite her great life challenge.

“How is everything going?” was all I could muster to say. It was enough as she shrugged, tilted her head and said, “You know … it’s going.” Her eyes filled with tears. I gripped her arms, willing my care into her heart so that she could feel, at least for a moment, that she was not alone.

I told her I would continue to pray for her. She picked up her few bags and left the store.

The effects of my interaction lingered. I have been in that place where it takes every ounce of effort to keep the structure of my life intact; hence, I recognize the language of compassionate connection sweetened by the unexpected outreach of someone who you wouldn’t expect to care, but they do.

During those times when life deals the most unexpected hand of sorrows, the quest to understand those larger questions of why and how seem impossible to adequately understand. Keeping the wheels turning from day to day with the challenge of balancing survival with grocery runs is arduous and tiring on the soul.

So what provides the fuel to keep going? How do we replenish our hearts for another day? How do we restore hope? Sometimes it happens in the grocery store check-out line.

The power of unexpected encounters can be profound. It helps to make sense of sorrows not because it provides the answers to the big questions, but rather it reminds us that we are not alone. The hug of another does provide the fuel, and offers a glimpse of the light that exists in the power of love. Such little things help us to remain resilient when life is extra hard. We can be for one another the thread that connects the willingness to remain strong and steadfast. I was reassured of that.

Having received such “hugs” time and time again in my life, it felt good to give the same reminder of community in humanity to my acquaintance. I will hope that there will come a day when this woman is on the other side of her difficulty, and can offer the same kind of touch to another. In the meantime, I hope she encounters many angels along her way towards the light.

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Annemarie Romer is one of our regular community contributors.