I was on the way home from work and just popping into a cafe to check out a space they had available for a meeting. Just a quick look and then home for half an hour before picking up the kids from school.
But as I walked toward the coffee shop, I felt overcome by a dark cloud that whispered,
You are lonely and you do not have real friends.
I stopped still on the footpath. The darkness swirled around my feet.
Weird. I thought. You have friends. You’re not lonely… are you?
The thought came on so suddenly and the feeling of grief and loss that accompanied it was crushing. It felt it so strongly that I pulled out my phone to text Leigh. I feel lonely and without friends today. (Poor long-suffering Leigh.)
I stood on the footpath for a minute and prayed. I rejected the feeling, shoved my phone back into my pocket and head into the cafe.
As I walked into the brightly lit cafe, an elderly man with watery blue eyes and a pleasant face looked up and smiled at me. I smiled back and made my way to the counter to chat to the cafe owner. He showed me the space and it was perfect and we reserved it in his diary. The owners were so nice I decided to buy eggs and sit for a bit.
I sat down next to the old man. He smiled and said hello. We talked for a bit about his career, his favourite memories, the worst day of his life. He’d had a stroke so he spoke in circles a little. But that was okay. He was gentle and pleasant and I enjoyed talking with him.
He had no wife. No children. No brothers and sisters. When I asked him what he did with his days, he said, “I come here. Everyone here is my friend.” I looked around the near empty cafe. Two men in suits having a business meeting, the owner and a young barista.
I had to leave to collect my girls from school. As I collected my things, he leaned in and said, “you are a good person. A very good person. The world needs you.”
I thanked him, said I hoped we’d meet again and left.
* * *
Back out on the footpath, I had a crazy thought. The fog of bad feeling that had overwhelmed me before I entered the cafe… could that have been the old man’s loneliness? Did his feelings leak out onto the street and absorb into my heart before I even saw him smile?
Could it have been God, breaking my heart a little for an elderly man who needed half an hour of my time?