Today we went to the University Village for some light shopping and lunch. We headed to Barnes & Noble to buy Remy a "Big Girl" present since today was the day we said good-bye to the binky. We picked out a ladybug nightlight toy from their new toy section. After perusing the cafe, children's and crafts sections, we wandered back downstairs to pay for our items and then go next door for lunch. While standing in the long, slow moving line, I noticed a very tall, old gentleman leaning on a cane and resting against the counter. I had originally thought that he had come in with a companion, but as the minutes ticked by and he continued to stand alone, I started to wonder if the only cashier behind the counter had noticed him. Clearly, this man was by himself. He was obviously old, in delicate health and in need of assistance. I kept staring at the cashier, willing him to at least go over and say hello. But the line was fourteen people deep and so the old man remained, somewhat gasping and grunting for the continued strength to stand there and wait, and the patience until someone could (or would) acknowledge him. Finally, after what seemed like ten minutes, Michael (at least that's what his name tag said) approached the man and asked if he could help him. He turned towards him and said "I'd like to have lunch in the cafe, will you call someone to assist me, please? Thank you kindly, sir." After calling for customer service over the intercom, he went back to dealing with the rest of us. Two customers later, it was finally our turn, Michael hadn't said another word to the man and yet, there he still stood patiently waiting for his lunch, waiting for his assistance.
My mother and I are both very sensitive to the needs of the older generation and we both glanced in his direction and hesitated before approaching the desk to make our purchase. We were trying to offer the cashier another chance to help this gentleman before he helped us. Michael looked at us, standing at the front of the line, and abruptly shouted to him that "someone would be right there." Mom turned to me and said "Why don't you go help him to the cafe, I'll pay for our things, and meet you back down here, ok?" So, of course, that's exactly what I did. He was surprised, I think, that a fellow customer would offer to assist him.
We set off for the elevator and as we made our way, we talked about the weather, commenting on the mild, "warm" January temperature and the blizzard on the east coast. We bumped and shuffled and slowly made our way across the store to the elevator where he told me that his name was Robert and that he had just come from the V.A. where he'd had a "medical appointment" and had decided to stop for lunch. It turns out that he was a veteran of the Korean War and that he had been in the army. He said a few things about how awful it was and that he was glad to be out of it alive, stating that the people at the V.A. are some wonderful people. I told him that my grandpa had served as a marine in the Korean Army and that my uncle was a soldier of the army during the Vietnam War. We had a lot to say in such a short ride. I was a little sad when the doors opened, one short floor above the one in which we had met.
But, there we were. We had made it to the cafe, our journey was over and my services were no longer needed. Our conversation had come to an end. It was only a brief five minute meeting with an eighty-something-year-old soldier, but I was sad to leave him. Sad to think that here stands an American hero that has seen so much in his life and probably has no one to go home to at the end of his meal. I wanted to buy his lunch, to sit with him and talk but as I had spent the last of my cash and had to get back to my daughter and mother, I wished him well and thanked him for his service all those years ago. He turned his milky blue eyes towards me, grasped my hand with surprising strength and thanked me very much for "bestowing such kindness" on him. He even used my first name. A true gentleman. I must admit, I had quite a lump in my throat as I rode that elevator back downstairs. A thousand thoughts ran through my head, but mostly my thoughts turned towards Robert and the five minute blessing that he added to my day.
I know it's a long shot, but I sincerely hope I get to see him again...