My daughter straggled after me in the grocery store. I was intent on my list, and at that moment had my head in the dairy case. When I stepped back with my milk and plopped it in the cart, my daughter nudged me.
“Didn’t that guy used to go to our church?” she whispered.
I followed her line of sight—she was old enough to know not to point—and saw Kent. Yes, he used to go to our church. But I hardly recognized him.
Stooped. Haggard. Thin. He looked like he had aged at four times the normal rate. Kent studied a food label, while I slowly rolled my cart in his direction and wondered if I might catch his eye.
Finally he looked up and I said hello. Kent looked at me with eyes vacant of recognition, struggling to place me. Not so much time had passed since he and his wife moved to another body of faith that I expected this empty stare. I gave my name and mentioned the church, and finally my profile slipped into place in his brain.
He did not want to chat. He gripped his basket, nodded politely, and shuffled down the aisle.
And I do mean shuffled. Something had changed Kent. I wondered if he had been ill. I wondered about his wife and daughter. I wondered about his work. What could have broken him so evidently?
A couple more years passed, and a woman in my church died suddenly of a stroke. Kent showed up for the memorial service. He wore a dark suit and sat alone. He just looked old to me. Tight. Wounded. Broken.
After the service I trailed after my husband to go say hello to Kent. We greeted each other with small talk and words of loss for the mutual friend we had come to remember that day. Then my husband said, “How is Janet?”
Kent shrugged at his wife’s name. “I don’t know. We divorced three years ago.”
Ah. My husband backed out of the topic of conversation as deftly as possible. Especially after the passing of several years, we did not know Kent well enough to press for personal details.
At a memorial service, I was already predisposed to feel sad. Now I felt even sadder. And I remembered Kent’s ruined visage when I saw him in the grocery store.
Those two encounters with Kent droop in my memory, slipping off their hooks every now and then as a reminder of the brokenness in our world. Everybody I meet has a story, and a backstory. Inner story arcs come to the surface only rarely.
If life is not perfect, we tuck reality away where most people won’t see it.
And we age. And we get stooped and haggard. And we get gaunt or too heavy. And perhaps we do become medically ill.
What would happen if we told our inner stories to trustworthy people? What would happen if, instead of shame and judgment, we declared grace, forgiveness, and new creations to each other? If we care for our spirits, we might just find our bodies healthier as well. You’d have a hard time persuading me otherwise.
If you feel broken today in any way, grace is there, ready to fold you in God’s love. His eye is on the sparrow.
This is so sad and beautiful. I love your writing, Olivia. I have missed some of your stuff lately and need to catch up. You move me to be more sensitive, to really see people. Thanks. H
Well, according to your blog, you’ve been a little busy making a book deal! So happy for you. I got a box of author copies today. Happy dance.