Sunday, July 17, 2011

Heed My Words

"The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone."  -- George Elliot

The Forakers are doing a drive.  A multi-hour, grueling, boring drive with four kids and two adults who are all sleep deprived, sick of fast food and frankly ready for their own toilets and their own beds and in that order.  The term "weary traveller" becomes dear to me and I try to envision the Good Samaritan, the settlers who traversed the Great Plains and every immigrant that has ever made his way to our beloved country and hold them close.  It's not that bad, I tell myself...we're on a vacation...those people were changing their very lives.  Still, I feel a kinship with them.

We stop in Bakersfield, California.  It's not a tourist destination in any sense of the word.  Actually, no offense to native Bakersfield-types, but it's a place to try to avoid.  It's hot, flat and pretty dull.  It has the dust of agriculture floating in the air.  It has the scent of a town that shoulda, coulda, woulda done something great but just never did.  It makes me say to my kids who've been confined in the car for hours already: "This is a fast stop.  Let's get it all done quick and we're back on the road."

Mary Kate needs something that McDonald's just isn't going to have so we wander next door to Harry's Market which is a gas station and a convenience store and peruse the shelves for feminine protection.  The hunt isn't going well.  We find something that will work and then decide to use candy as our cover.  We buy a candy bar for every family member, throw in some gum for good measure and we plop it all in front of an innocuous looking cashier.  Hoping to be casual, we both avoid eye contact and so I notice what the cashier was reading: a pink-tinged newspaper written in arabic.

"Is this your daughter?" the cashier asks.

Forced from my eye avoidance I look up to find a gentle, kind and hypnotic pair of eyes.  I try to categorize them in my mind in milliseconds...are they hazel?  They seem to be cafe au lait sprinkled with Tinkerbell green glitter and suddenly I want to stare at them linger.

"Yes, this is my daughter."

"She's taller than you."

I smile.  "Yes, she is. Quite a bit taller than me actually."

"She's going to keep growing." He looks at me, pointedly...suddenly a sooth-sayer, no longer a cashier.

"Most likely." I laugh.  "You should see her brother."

The cashier/fortune teller is not side-tracked.  "I have three daughters." he reveals and suddenly I can feel his parental delight.  Instantly, I know that they are grown and that he is immeasurably proud.

"Congratulations.  How old are they?" I ask curious about the eyes, the wisdom behind them, the stories they can tell.

"19, 21 and 24.  They are all in the medical field."

"Wonderful!  My daughter is hoping to be a nurse."  As usual, I over share, and Mary Kate is cringing.

And that was the secret code that unlocked the door...without regard to time or to customers waiting or to this place we are in, wisdom comes pouring out like a waterfall:

"I knew a lady who was 67 years old when her husband died.  He died on their way to Lake Arrowhead.  She asked herself, What am I going to do now?  And do you know what she did? She went to medical school.  First she went to college to finish her degree and then she went to medical school and became a doctor -- 67 years old.  She is a doctor right here, down the street.  She is in her 90's now and no one can take that away from her.  She is a doctor."

He turns his spell-binding gaze on Mary Kate and she didn't have a chance.  She had to look him straight in the eye.

"You can cut your arm off.  You can have a husband and then lose him and lose all of your money but if you have this (he points to his brain and taps it) you have everything. No one can take it away from you." "Education is what you need.  You don't need any boyfriends.  You don't need anything but this (and he taps again)."

I look at Mary Kate and smile.  She smiles too but it's the smile of being polite.  She is going with it but she isn't sure at all where it's headed.

"Education is everything."

My sixteen year old daughter who thinks she needs a boyfriend, fantasizes about fashion and romance and blows off all adults she lives with actually pauses.  She nods.  She lets it sink in.

We have to get going.  Midnight strikes and the slippers melt away.  We are back with the pumpkins and mice.  I ask this man his name..."Singh" he says and smiles.  I shake his hand.  I feel his kindness permeate my skin and this weary traveller is mesmerized for one last time in the river of those eyes.

"Thank you so much." I pause.  I want to tell him how much he has helped.  How influential a stranger's words can be.  How his name will go into the archives of Foraker Family roadtrips...but how? How do you thank someone for their little rest stop on a weary road? How do you thank someone for the grace they sprinkled with their kindness and care?

I walk out with a black plastic bag full of candy and goosebumps on my arms.  An angel named Singh entered unannounced.  We almost missed him.  As we walked out the door I looked at Mary Kate.  She knew it too. Singh calls to us both, pointing at us he commands: "Heed my words!"

Singh, you have no idea.


  1. This is a lovely story and so beautifully written. I feel like you brought the angel to me too. Thank you!

  2. This story warms my heart. What a defining moment. I, too, feel as though you brought the angel to me.

  3. I love when you have an amazing encounter with someone like that! I always feels like you have to treasure the time you have with people, because it's often so brief and the relationship is never the same after time passes. Love this post:)