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Chance Encounters ... and Life Decisions

If I was a gifted songwriter, it would become a ballad; a poet ... it would become a sonnet.

It's the day after Halloween, we're all on sugar overload, and it's a Monday to boot. The children were all off to school this morning while it was still dark and parents are still recouping. And add to that ... it's raining. Not the fun kind of rain; the warm, mid 50's kind of rain that is so synonymous with Seattle.

But back to the songwriter. "Where were you when the world stopped turning ..." Alan Jackson. "And as I turned to make my way back home, the snow turned into rain," Dan Fogelberg. I'm sure you can think of many more poignant tunes. The Fogelberg song was always especially depressing ... to me. Nothing worse than snow turning to rain!

I had one of those mornings, today, that will live with me for awhile. I'm sure it was influenced by the combination of rain and post holiday ... but for me ... it was poignant, and I had to share.

I was purposefully shopping the aisles of a near empty QFC, the elementary schools had not yet started and the work day for many had already begun. It was the sweet spot for grocery shopping. Except, my latte had turned to water, as they say, a promised storm was coming in; sideways rain and wind, and I had laundry waiting at home. Yet, I was determined to get it all done before being outside became horribly miserable.

One could hear conversations echoing around the store. The produce guys were happily arguing about the sad state of athletics in Washington state. How they might just have to give it all up and go to Sounders games from now on. But jovially, one of them reminded the others that the Sounders had also lost this weekend.

I left the produce department with a smile on my face ... the frozen aisles were next and on to the meat department.

The "chef," as they call him in the meat department, fairly roared to all who could hear that today marked 52 days until Christmas. All around him groaned ... and my smile increased. That was a thought I would hold onto, an extra push to happily finish my shopping.

It changed from there. There was a child somewhere in the building with a hacking cough. I felt for the unseen child.

I rounded the corner to the row upon rows of milk. We are up to about 3 gallons of 2% milk now due to one (1!) growing adolescent boy. A woman was standing in front of the milk, shifting back and forth, making it nearly impossible to grab my 2%. I was in a happy mood; Christmas was only 52 days away, so I waited ... and waited. It was then she turned to the milk man who was just arriving and announced, very loudly I might add, that she "hated" all Americans. He snickered and didn't reply. She took the opportunity to further enlighten him on her seriously and firmly held belief that she truly "hated" ALL Americans.

I was offended, especially in that while she may have been Canadian, she surely didn't have any detectable accent, so there was a strong probability that she herself was an American.

When she noticed me standing there ... she glared and further prevented access to the milk. As I'm horribly inept with clever comebacks, I simply muttered an, "Excuse me," and grabbed my milk, literally straining to reach around her body. Frustrated with myself for not saying ... something ... anything ... I instead leveled a not-too-polite stare as I turned in the opposite direction.

I walked down the chips aisle. The boy with the hacking cough was in that isle. My first thought was to dash to another to avoid possible exposure, although he wasn't coughing any longer. He was accompanied by two parents. A good-looking man of middle years and a woman garbed in athletic gear with a messy pony tail. A quick glance at her reddened and puffy eyes made me think she'd been up all night ... crying. The boy, perhaps 7 or 8 years old, was pushing the cart. Obviously successful people, yet just as obvious, they were people on the brink of gut-wrenching decisions. With only a few items in their cart, they were wandering aimlessly through the aisles.

"Are you going to still love me, Daddy," the boy asked as a tear rolled down his cheek.

The man wearily uttered, "Yes, son, I'll still love you; I just won't see you too often."

The boy's chin quivered bravely.

The woman rested her hand on the boy's shoulder.

I completed my shopping with a heavy heart.

As I drove home with my wipers on high, I couldn't help but be affected by the people lives I had encountered by chance on this one rainy morning. One living in hate, the other preparing for devastation. I couldn't help but be affected by both and wonder at these chance encounters we have with people.

How is it possible to live and sustain and feed the kind of hate I saw at the milk counter? Why not ... just leave this country? Whether we agree with the current political culture or not ... we have the power to change it ... tomorrow, in fact. What we can't deny is that America and Americans are a special and unique lot of individuals, thus making our history also special and unique. So unique, in fact, that we have been blessed beyond that of any other country. We are a beacon; a place where people come to for medical treatment, a place of freedom from religious persecution, a place where we are free to make our own way ... make our own decisions ... create and build what we want to create and build. And if it weren't so, if America wasn't such a great country, we wouldn't have the thousands upon thousands upon thousands of emigrants over our 200-year-plus history that have braved all to come and make America home.

My family has faced its share of challenges. More than most, in many cases. But never have I had to look into the shattered eyes of a child that belonged to us and try to explain why someone I loved was responsible for the deterioration of their world. I have several friends trying to navigate the waters of fractured relationships right now. But thankfully, none of them have young children.

My heart breaks for that lone child. Seemingly even without a sibling to share the devastation. And a boy, trying so hard to be brave, and a weary father anxious to have the matter dealt with. While I have no knowledge of this particular family or of what they are going through, I am merely using it as an example. And I also freely acknowledge, in their case, there may be extenuating circumstances.

But even so, extenuating circumstances and all, it is hard for me to imagine why two people who bring a child into this world can't hate each other privately, move into separate bedrooms, and stick it out until the child is no longer a child. Why can't we be that unselfish, why can't we see that forever, because of our selfishness, children will be tarnished and changed ... forever ... through experiences like these. Why does our life matter so much more than theirs?

Well ... enough said. The rain is picking up ... the laundry is waiting, for Mondays have always traditionally been "wash days." Someday I'll tell you a story about why New England women chose Mondays for wash days.

Even as the rain is falling in sheets, the rooms are gloomier than normal, and the house is especially quiet, I feel very, very blessed. While my family has braved past challenges and the future is always unknown; today I live free. My heart is healthy and alive and full of expectations for the future. I do not live with hateful bitterness wringing and squeezing it dry, leaving only a brittle hopelessness upon which to feed. And tonight, when my family reconvenes after this rainy Monday, I will have the quiet solace that their needs will be met. While we collectively hope for greater things to come, we have the assurance that today ... we are just fine. And tonight, I will hold them a little closer as I weave tales about the upcoming holidays, things to look forward to and anticipate. And when I see that answering smile, I will know that this day ... has been ... good.

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