We sat at the picnic table we’d dragged out here several days ago, prolonging the inevitable. Lake Erie lapped against the beach, stretching liquid fingers toward our toes. A cheerful sun warmed our faces; a fresh lake breeze teased our hair. All around us, beauty and peace reigned; but it only sharpened the sense of sadness in our hearts.
The old man sat between us. “Well, I guess this is it,” he said, when the tranquil silence could last no longer. He took us each by the hand and prayed for us: for a safe journey, for guidance and protection in the long hours of travel awaiting my friend and I.
The prayer ended, and still we sat there, hands linked. The old man spoke. I don’t remember what he said, but I remember looking over at my friend, seeing the redness of his eyes and a single tear on his cheek. I felt the tightness in my throat and turned away, staring into the breeze, letting it dry my own unshed tears.
My friend had known this man for years . . . had looked up to him, loved him as family. But me? I had met him only days ago. How could a complete stranger come so close to my heart in so short a time?
But then, maybe he wasn’t a complete stranger. There was something in the way he spoke to you, the way he hugged you each morning, that rang of familiarity. Something that felt a little like the love of Christ.
“You had better get going,” he said at length, hugging each of us one more time, and walking us to our car. A thousand miles would soon stand between us. And though there’s always an element of goodbye that makes you wonder if you’ll ever say hello again, you can’t dwell on that thought. “Until next time,” he said, closing the car door behind us.