Before I put my pen to paper I pondered more deeply why Andrew might have caught my attention. What was that "something" that moved me to ask him for lunch that day? Why him? There were others in line at KFC.
I know I am an empath, a person whose senses are wide open all the time. I have a hard time settling down, letting go of sensory experiences. In fact, this blessing - curse of empathy works in so many ways. The double-edged sword allows me to intuit what my patients need as I work as a Certified Music Practitioner. And I am good at taking on the mood of a room or a person. I think I sensed that Andrew was carrying deep sadness, loneliness, likely depression. My desire to fix people, help out when I can, make the world a better place led me, as an extroverted empath, to reach out. Perhaps my own brokenness resonated with his. We had both lost spouses. It was difficult to ignore the coincidences that arose over our three hour lunch conversation. My empath-extrovert self was doing what came naturally.
Are you super sensitive? Can you resonate with anything that happens to me? You may want to read Dr. Judith Orloff, MD's book The Empath's Survival Guide, NYT bestseller and a life changer for me.
Andrew replied. "I think we were meant to meet."
"Yes, I agree. And I want to ask you a favor. May I write up our lunch story and excerpt it weekly on my website? I have been racking my brain about what already-written story for my new book ought to be excerpted and posted prior to publication, and nothing has come up. Your story is so amazing -- I think it is meant to be."
"I hardly know what to say. Can you tell me more about this?"
"After I write up the story, we would meet for you to go over it with me, make changes, deletions or additions. You may want it to be more anonymous so I would have you choose a name for yourself, possibly alter a location or a conversation."
"Oh, you can use my name and anything else."
"Let me write it up first and then you can make your decision. Sometimes things change when they are written."
"Okay. I'll look forward to reading it when you finish. This was so unexpected."
"Yes, another coincidence, perhaps? Thanks for letting me pursue this. And if it does not work for you, I scrap the idea."
"Okay, a deal," he said. We chatted a bit and then ended our conversation. I was eager to get pen to notebook (remember, I am a long-hand writer for a first draft!).
How would you have reacted to the question for a favor I asked Andrew?
I called Andrew. I could hear pleasure in his voice when I announced who I was.
"First of all, I want to tell you how much I enjoyed our lunch last week. I'm nearly obsessed with it, cannot let it go. Second, before I go any further, I want to make sure you know I had no intention of having lunch with anyone that day and that our meeting was not for the purpose of gathering another lunch story for my book. That isn't the way it works. Every encounter is random."
"I understand," he said.
"I don't want you ever to think I used you. Plain and simple, I was moved to ask you to join me."
What do you think moved me to ask Andrew, a perfect stranger, to join me for lunch?
Andrew's and my chance meeting over lunch at KFC was the result of sticking my neck out, as I do, and asking a perfect stranger who is alone, to dine with me. Usually I am moved to do so in a fast food or pizza place where we stand in line to order.
That's where the invitation usually takes place. "Something" will push me to ask the question, "I'm alone today too; would you like to eat together?"
Andrew's story, our many coincidences told over the table, occupied my mind for several days to the point I needed to call him. My then unreleased second memoir, OPEN FOR LUNCH, in which I relate the lunch stories of many of the lunch strangers I have met, whose poignant declarations begin to inform my own story, was nearing publication and my practice was to send excerpts of a chapter or two. I needed to choose a story.
So I called Andrew.
Why do you think I called Andrew ?
"Let's stay in touch," I offered.
"Yes," he said. "I'll call you when I have the wolf photos for you."
He cleaned up our table, picked up the little pieces of notebook paper on the floor and hustled it all to the nearby trash receptacle by the exit doors.
Again, I was struck by his politeness.
"Bye," I said and walked over to the door to the ladies' restroom.
"Bye," he said back, waving his hand and smiling.
When I returned to the dining area where we had met, Andrew was gone.
Will I ever see Andrew again?
I reached in my purse and dug for my business card holder. "Here, this is my contact information," I said handing him one of my color cards with my guitar on the front.
"Wow, that is a beautiful card," he said, pulling up his sweater to access his shirt pocket. He slid a small spiral notebook and pen out and scribbled his name and phone number on the first page. He tore the page out and handed it to me while little pieces of lined white notebook paper fluttered to the floor.
I extended my arms, leaned in to hug him. He was tentative so I straightened up and enlarged the space between us. We shook hands instead, but he put his free hand on top of mine. Holding hands had been safe, a moving expression between us.
Would you be as tentative about a good-bye hug as Andrew was?
We knew it was time to get going. When Andrew looked at his watch he shook his head and smiled. We both slid out of our sides of the booth.
"This time with you has been such a gift to me," he said. I could see tears in his eyes again.
"Me, as well."
What do you think he will take away from our meeting?
I asked Andrew if he had the ability to make me a copy of the wolf photo. "I'd love to see if I might also sense the wolf's spirit."
"When I get all moved and set up in my apartment I'll find the the photo on my hard drive and make you a copy. Actually, there are two photos of the wolf I'll make for you."
"Let me pay for the copies, your time, " I said. I knew Andrew was short on cash after taking care of his wife for so many years. He couldn't leave her to go to work.
"We'll see," he said.
Do you think Andrew will allow me to pay for the photos? Given his financial circumstances should I insist?
Andrew must have seen me look at my watch. He looked up when I spoke. "Wow, what a wonderful afternoon meeting you and sharing our lives with each other."
"This meeting was no coincidence," he said. "I think it was meant to be."
Do you concur that our meeting was "meant to be?" Why?
Andrew remained lost in the remembrance of Cody's eyes, Cody's presence. My mind shifted to wondering how long we had been talking. I felt guilty about glancing at my watch, but I lifted my sleeve and looked anyway. It had been over three hours since I asked Andrew to eat lunch with me at the KFC.
Why would I feel guilty about looking at my watch?
Andrew continued, "I think that wolf's name is Cody. He's gone now. But he let me get that close to him. He allowed me to raise my camera and capture that communion between us. I have that photo moment framed and on my wall. When I look at it, it's almost like God ----- I believe in God ----- in those wolf's eyes."
Have you ever experienced such a moment with an animal?
"There are one or two photos I would have shared with the Photo Club.
You know about the Western Carolina Nature Center?"
I nodded that I did. Andrew went on to tell me about his love for the rescue wolves at the Center. How one day the older gray wolf and he stared into each other's eyes and that something spiritual happened in that moment.
Do you have a spirit animal? Mine is the jellyfish.
Andrew spoke readily. "You live up in North Asheville, right? The photographers don't happen to be Don and Bonnie?"
"Yes," I replied with a huge grin on my face. "How do you know them?"
"I greatly admired their work in the photo club. They probably wouldn't know me. My wife and I stayed in the background. Just in case they might remember us, tell them how much I love their work."
"Will do." Andrew perked up.
How can all these coincidences be happening to us?
"You are a generous man," I said after Andrew told me how he had taken care of his wife, his sisters. "What are you doing to take care of yourself since your wife died?"
He said he was going through the motions of being alive, but had no interest in much of anything. "She and I shared a love of nature photography. We joined the local photography club but we didn't own the fancy cameras that most of the members had."
"Two really good friends of ours are nature photographers. They're our neighbors. We've gotten to be quite close," I said.
I hoped I did not cut him off, move the conversation in a different direction too abruptly.
Do you think I changed the conversation direction too fast?
Andrew didn't need to explain that his money was tight after taking impeccable care of his ailing wife for many years and not going out to work. He spared no expenses for her. But he added more about his money situation.
"I supported my sisters for way too long. Like my mother, they were helpless. One is an alcoholic and can't hold a job. I helped them out like they were still my kid sisters. I finally had to cut that out and now they barely speak to me."
What led Andrew to take care of his sisters for so long?
"I'm moving to a smaller apartment this week," he said looking rather downtrodden.
"So, you have to touch all her things, the things you shared."
He nodded slowly indicating that he knew I understood.
"I'm cutting back. My money's really tight," he added. This time he looked forlorn.
Can you guess why Andrew's money is tight?
Andrew told me he had family. "They're busy and mostly far away. They've been good to me, though. My wife, their mother, and I were only married ten years. We both wished we had known each other sooner so we could have been together longer."
"A big loss." After I said that I felt stupid. I almost apologized.
Why do you think I felt stupid?
After Andrew told me about his wife's recent death, I felt my shoulders sag. He was still holding my hands, more for his sake than mine, this time. We stayed like that for a long time. He needed the touch. We were silent.
When I felt it was okay to speak I said, "Dang," while shaking my head. Then I asked if he had family.
How did timing play a role in this scene?
"I haven't talked intelligently to anyone for over a year. My wife, my soul mate, has been very ill for several years. The last two years I have done nothing but take care of her. Exactly what I wanted to do. She was unable to carry on much conversation this last year."
He took a deep breath.
"She passed away eight weeks ago."
Have you been the recipient of such raw sharing from a "stranger?"
Andrew reached across the table and took my hands again, eyeing me to take in my reaction. "You are a real gift to me today. Your asking me to eat lunch with you is not a coincidence."
I saw the rims of his eyes redden, become watery.
What do you think Andrew is going to tell me?
Andrew turned back to the table. "I hope I haven't offended you by telling you all this about myself," he said.
I raised my eyebrows.
"I can tell you are an intelligent, sensitive, well-educated woman," he added.
I felt my face blush. "Thank you," I said.
He continued, "I'm honored you told me these things about your life. And, it's not often that I can talk about my story with someone who 'gets it'."
Do you think Andrew is going to tell me more?
"I think my dad was wounded emotionally by his war experiences, " I continued. "He was so young. In fact, the youngest Marine aviator in WW II. He, like your dad, could become violent. And he drank heavily on and off."
Andrew and I let these new coincidences rest between us. I pushed my drink cup around in a circle. Andrew looked out the window.
What was I doing pushing my drink cup around?
"Sounds familiar," I said. "Only my mother was not weak. She was the other colonel in the house. A tough one. She should have never had four kids. Her heart wasn't in it. She especially resented me--the only girl and the oldest and the apple of my dad's eye. She was easier on my brothers."
Did/do you have unequal treatment of female and male children in your family?
"My dad was a tough one. Gone a lot of the time, an alcoholic, a violent man," Andrew said. "I was the oldest and expected to take care of my mother and two sisters. Mom drank her fair share, too. She was weak, distant, helpless. I couldn't wait to get out of the house." Andrew's eyes were fixed on mine.
Can you imagine Andrew's home life as a child?
We sipped our drinks then looked up at each other.
I spoke first. "My father, the Marine Colonel, was devastated. You know the Marine Corps espirit de corps thing. Dad kept wondering out loud "why Henry and not me." He had been shot down three times as a pilot in the Pacific during WW II.
Do you have any WW II heroes in your family?
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Open For Lunch
Award Finalist in the "Health: Alternative Medicine" category of the 2017 Best Book Awards