It was Sunday morning of a long and festive weekend, my family gathered in Detroit for a cousin’s wedding. The best way to describe the newlyweds was to say they were just a ridiculously great couple, and so very obviously happily in love with each other this weekend. I’m sure you’ve noticed where how the crowd gathered for a wedding really feels about the marrying couple—their choice to marry, their prospects for a happy life together—drives the tone of these weekends (and definitely drives the tone of the reception—whether the participants are drinking in celebration, or to cope, or to manage their anger/disgust/horror). This weekend was a joy, end to end, the reception one of those nights when no one wanted to stop dancing. You gotta love those kinds of weddings (and savor them—they should be more common). And yes, Krista and Mark seem as happy and perfect together today as they were those 20 years ago, God bless them!
My own family was now gathered at some breakfast place of a restaurant, our final being together before we headed off to the airport and our various points east and home. While we were all a bit wobbly in the knees, as it goes, the happiness of the day before continued into this moment as we rehashed the weekend’s events, laughed over this moment or that, exchanged soft gossip about the crowd, and otherwise made sure to catch fully up with each other before our reunion broke up for good. It was a sunny day, I recall, the ambiance of the restaurant seeming to reflect our mood and the simple pleasure of a Sunday morning after a successful weekend. Does it sound like a happy time for us? We were all of that just then.
There were about a dozen of us that morning, lined up across from each other along a long table. I was seated next to my mother, our backs to the wall such that we had a view of the rest of the restaurant. While my focus was of course on family members and food, I did notice a few tables away an older gentleman sitting and having breakfast there by himself.
I noticed him for a few reasons, I suppose. One, it was hard not to feel a small pinch at the contrast in our respective circumstances. Here we were, the happy, boisterous family breaking bread together, while he sat alone, a status there on that Sunday morning which suggested to me this was probably not so uncommon for him.
Perhaps I noticed him as well, as he represented something of what was missing in our group, a member of his generation. It was a few years removed just then from when Pap had died. How Pap (and Grandma, for that mater) would have loved being here for this weekend, for this moment, of course, and how finally perfect for us the weekend would have been had they been there.
And last, I couldn’t help but notice him for the fact that he was clearly noticing us. Indeed, over his meal before him, and as he raised to sip at his coffee, his eyes would look up to take us in, absorbing our happy banter. And while that contrast and our presence could have brought a small measure of despair to him, it seemed the effect was really quite the opposite. His eyes smiled as he watched us, tapping into our group’s rollicking bonhomie, it appeared.
So, while I felt a bit sad when I first noticed him alone there, that smile in his eyes came as a relief to me. I silently invited him to eavesdrop to his heart’s content, and allow the abundance of our happiness to spill over on him as much as he’d like.
The meal ended and the bill paid, the demands of time and our lives elsewhere required us to finally concede this precious moment and make our way to the exit. As we rose and began to file away from the table, I of course was interested in catching a last look at our virtual family member as we passed his table on the way out.
I would have thought this small and inconsequential aspect of our breakfast that morning was a thing of mine and mine alone, but no, that proved not the case. For there was an angel among us, being of course my mother, who I’m sure had also noticed this gentleman sitting there that morning. As we approached and passed his table, he was looking openly at us now, the smile in his eyes to beat the band and bid us adieu, though most did not notice this walking past. As my mother walked by him, without saying a word she gently rested her hand on his shoulder, as if to say, you were not alone here this morning, and, thank you for joining us as you did. His own look softened in response, as if to say back to her, thank you. It gave my heart a start, the way love and compassion flourished in this tiniest of moments, seemingly as powerful as all of that summonsed by a full weekend of wedding festivities.
And that is what an angel can do.
(Love you, Mom)