Rosemary's Blog

A Chance Encounter With Compassion
March 1, 2008, 4:29 pm
Filed under: Family and Friends

April 27, 2008 by Rosemary.

“What is wrong?”

Pulling myself from the rail of the bridge, I turned around to face a man I would probably ignore under normal circumstances.  Alone on a bench was a man with a backpack that looked to contain all of his wordly belongings.  His clothes were faded and clearly had not been washed for a very long time.  His face was like leather, creased by experience and pain.

I looked at the ground a moment and choked from the bottom of my stomach, trying to put suffering into words, “My very good friend passed away.”  As I said this, my sight cleared for a moment as tears fell to the ground.  He looked at me as if he had known what I would say.

It had happened nearly two weeks prior but felt as if only two hours had passed.  Everything up until that point had been normal.  To me a setback had been failing a chemistry test.  Suddenly and without warning, one of my closest friends had died.  In an instant my life was drastically changed.  Now I found myself on a walking bridge, laying myself bare to someone I would generally dismiss with “I haven’t got any change.”

He motioned me to sit down next to him.  I obliged as he turned, looking off into the distance, seeming to recall a life that had not been easy.  I felt lost and alone, but having thrown myself out into the open as I had done, I was not afraid sitting next to this stranger.

“This is tough.  I know,” he said, as I nodded.  “All of my family.  Gone.”  I could tell he didn’t want my pity nor was he trying to undermine my grief.  He again looked off into the distance.  His face remained unchanged as a tear rolled down his cheek.

People walking by were puzzled and perhaps even alarmed by the juxtaposition we created.  It was easy to tell this was no father speaking to his son.

He turned me.  “My Grandmother,” following her name with the sign of the cross, “once told me ‘there is a time for everything.  A time for happiness and a time for sadness.’”

We sat together in silence for a few moments.  Noticing that my steady flow of tears hadn’t subsided, he added, “This is not Hollywood.  You must go on.  I know it hurts, and there will be a lot more shit, but you will have to go on.”

I knew I would never see this man again, yet as we sat there watching the river flow far below us I felt like I had known him for years.  His voice was calm and reassuring.  He didn’t know me and I was an absolute mess.  Somehow his voice conveyed a feeling of confidence, a confidence in me.

Never before had I doubted the general goodness of mankind but it was humbling to see it now when I needed it most.  Here was a man who, on most days, needed what I, a privileged doctor’s son, had to hand out.  Yet it was he who was handing out sustenance to me.

At last he broke the silence, “Now I must go.”  With a faint whisper I thanked him, still consumed with anguish.  I watched him drift across the long bridge until he was out of sight.  It would be some time before I realized it, but my life had yet again been changed, this time by a chance encounter with compassion.

Written by Adam Woeltz for the February 14, 2008 time of remembrance for his friend David Cooper