I noticed her out of the corner of my eye. She was to me just a random person taking a seat a foot or two away from me, both of us facing the window in a Starbucks, I looking out on a sun-flooded street on a cold morning the day before Thanksgiving.
I was looking out until she came up, and then I did what I always do. I checked to see who had alighted near me. There was nothing unusual about her. Maybe thirty, perhaps or a tad younger, she wore a gaily colored backpack. She opened up the small bag and partially pulled out a breakfast sandwich. She closed her eyes. Theoretically she could have been thinking of anything, but I knew somehow that she was silently offering a prayer. My eyes, after a second, resumed their gaze on the bustling corner of 20th and L Streets. Something in me said that to look further would be somehow to intrude on a holy moment.
Why seeing this stranger pause and shut her eyes before biting into a sandwich would affect me at all I have no idea. It occurred to me that she might have been practicing something that she’d learned as a child, much as I had, to pause before eating to frame a thought or word of gratitude. I thought it, but for no longer than a nanosecond. I glanced at my phone but somehow didn’t want to go away from the Presence nesting near me.
She rose after a bit, gathered her things, left. Still looking out the window, I saw a totally unremarkable woman wearing a bright backpack and green pants walk towards the corner, wait, cross the street, and disappear behind a truck blocking any further view of her. I continued looking out at the street, the morning, the passersby, the traffic.
For reasons I will never know, or maybe for no reason at all, I could only feel surging affection rising up inside me. It felt, well, like love, and seemed almost to have a sound as it crept higher past my throat. A tear spilt onto my cheek, and then another, and another. I sat stunned at my own body’s response to something so inconsequential I didn’t know what it was.
And yet I did know. I do know. I saw a stranger pause in something that seemed like gratitude. It was her pause that touched me.
© Frank Gasque Dunn, 2018