Once a year around Christmas time we visit family in a suburb of Cleveland. This particular afternoon I was reading student papers at a coffee shop located on the main square. It is a wonderful place where people know and greet each other and where you can really settle for a couple of hours without feeling pressured to vacate the table.
I was sitting in a corner facing next to a big window. After reading for a bit I would look out on the square to ponder some of the material I just read. People bundled up in warm coats, hats, scarves and gloves walking fast to get out of the wind and rain.
At one of such moments I saw an older African-American man, shabbily dressed, hardly any teeth in his mouth, yet youthful. We locked eyes - somehow he looked familiar. He waved enthusiastically and came up to the window with a big smile. My response was clearly inviting to him. Moments later he came into the store, gave me a big hug and asked me how I was doing. I told him I was well while desperately trying to remember who he was and where I had seen him before. He went on telling me that he did not have work, mumbled something I could not understand and eventually it became clear that he wanted some money for something to eat. Somewhat uncharacteristically, I did not hesitate and gave him some money. He gave me another hug and a big mostly toothless smile and left. Although he looked familiar, I could not place him and it was actually very unlikely that I had met him before. It was a strange experience, which I only gave little thought at the moment. My attention returned to the papers. Half an hour later he was at the window again, we had big smiles for each other and he went on his way.
When I told the story a bit later, I heard myself saying that he reminded me of Joe. Somehow similar demeanor, friendly, a bit of a hustler, a weathered face, hardly any teeth and my closest friend at the time notwithstanding our 20-year age difference. And then I saw: 15 years ago – this week - he died. Memories of our many times together flooded me and brought my heart to smile.
Today’s encounter was a gift I did not see until I saw it. There is more than there is and to see the More, we need seeing with different eyes.