Saturday, August 20, 2016

I've become quite fond of Bob. 
The sweet, old man that bags my over-priced produce at our local "high-end" grocery store each week.
Bob rarely smiles nor has said more than a few words to me in the eight plus years I've known him.
Watching him rubber-band and delicately place one pint after another of blueberries atop raspberries.
He doesn't even ask if I want paper or plastic.  
He just chooses.  And that is the way it's been.  

We've kept our interactions to the bare minimum and it seems to work for us. 
He seems tired.  Soft, brown eyes that look a bit forlorn.
GoshThere are so many stories written in the lines on a face, in to the hands that hold and carry paper bags (or sometimes plastic. . .really depends on his mood.)
It seems like life has taken a lot out of him.  As if he's just going through the motions now.
(Please keep in mind I could be WAY off in my perception of him.  Typically, I am way off in my perceived judgement of people anyway.)

For all I know, he leaves his four-hour shift skipping through the automatic sliding doors, goes home to change into a Tommy Bahama palm tree print shirt, does a quick shave of his relentless five-o-clock shadow while he whistles and combs what little hair he has left over the top of his head as he does a little heel-click jump and heads straight to the casino where he whoops it up with his 74-year-old girlfriend (he likes younger women,) binges on shrimp cocktail and $18.99 Filet until the wee hours of the morning.  
Who knows.  I imagine these things.

But body language speaks volumes.
As do sad eyes and a mouth that rarely grins.
Sometimes I think he sees me like Robin Williams' character saw Matt Damon's character in Goodwill Hunting. 

"You're just a kid.  You don't have the faintest idea what you're talking about.  If I asked you about war. . .You've never been near one, you've never held your best friends' head in your lap and watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. . ."

I have a quiet respect for him regardless.  I am a kid.  He is my elder.
And yet I don't feel so different from him. 
I'm not really a sparkly go-getter myself and often feel I too, am a crabby, 75+ -year-old man just gettin' by, so this exchange doesn't require too much effort and I feel like I can relax and be myself around him.
He moves slowly and at his own pace and I follow his lead.  I don't rush him and try to keep conversation focused on simple matters like the weather.
And the forecast for the next 14 days (as we Minnesotan's do,) but even as the words leave my mouth, I regret my choice of topic.  Because who gives a shit about the weather, really.  Bob certainly doesn't.  It's weather.  (It's easily predictable through the Weather Channel app.)
It's such a silly thing to comment on.  But it's what we do to fill dead space and connect with each other on something, anything.

Bob's a Vietnam veteran (I know this because of a hat he wore once on Veteran's day, adorned with patches and buttons.)   
And although he doesn't usually have much to say, any time he can work it in to our exchanging of pleasantries, he'll mention that he fought in the war.  
I was wearing a Billabong trucker hat one day that said, HAWAII on it.  (One of my 17 Trucker hats.)
And he says
"Hawaii, huh?" nodding at my hat, waving a bag of Kale towards my forehead.
"Nice place, huh?  I was stationed there during the war."

That's all he says.  In fact, that's the most he's said to me in five years!  I think he'd like to talk?! 
"Oh!  Yeah, beautiful.  Yeah!  I suppose you've been there.  With the war and all.  Honolulu, I'm guessing?  Pearl Harbor?  What did you like about the island?"  I panicked.
How does a Midwestern housewife talk about war?
Well, like an idiot.  
I ask inane questions, not quite sure how to cover such a large subject with a man who knows what REAL pain is like, REAL heartache is like, knows REAL sadness and devastating lossA man who's no doubt seen and experienced atrocities on a scale I could never fully imagine.
I'm just a kid.

He doesn't seem to be bothered by my ignorance.  He starts to talk about the other places he's been as we shuffle together to my car.  All over the world, actually.  Italy, India, Spain, that was his favorite.

After our brief chat and my moronic efforts to keep the conversation going (I was so excited to have him talking,) I start to think maybe he likes me.  I'm a familiar face and although he's hard to read, when he sees me now, he says, "Hey, kiddo.The way Eor says hello to Winnie the Pooh.  

Recently, he actually DID seem happy to see me.  A small glint in his eye of recognition.  The hint of a SMILE crossed his face.
Our conversations always start with me asking, "So.  Bob.  What's new?  What's happenin'?"
He usually looks at me dead-panned.  "Nothin.'  Nothin' at all." 
"Goin' on any trips?  Anywhere this summer?"  I ask willfully, hoping he'll give me something to let me in to his world even further.
"Ah, no, I don't like to plan.  I just like to see where the day takes me.  Maybe tomorrow I'll pack up a suitcase and go to Vegas.  Who knows."

I still suspect not a lot happens between his shift-end at the grocery store and the car ride home.
But recently our conversation lingered.  It was the oddest thing.
He brought up the war again as we walked side by side in to the summer heat, toward my mini-van.
And he randomly says, 
"So. . .a reporter from Time Magazine interviewed me during the war and asked me if I was afraid to die."
I literally stopped in the middle of the parking lot and turned to face him.
He was TALKING to me
I hadn't even asked him anything.  He just started talking.
I wanted to grab his hand. . ."Oh, Bob, let's talk!  I want to hear all about it!!!  All of it!  Your whole life!"
I didn't of course.  I didn't want to scare him away.
Instead I turned and kept walking with him, listening intently.  "Well?  What did you say?"  I asked.
"So this reporter from Time Magazine interviews me during the war and asks if I think about dying, if I'm afraid to die. . ." 
And then he LAUGHED!  This man who's hardly cracked a smile day upon day, year upon year of our random meetings, laughed when he replied.
"I says, Well?  I don't know!  I've never done it!"  
And he laughed heartily and slapped his hand down on the cart to emphasize the ridiculousness and hilarity of such a question posed to a young soldier, faced with death in the jungle every waking moment.
When asked if he was afraid of dying, he said, I DON'T KNOW!  I'VE NEVER DONE IT!"

And I laughed with him and thought, well isn't that brilliant!  
What a great answer!
How can we be afraid of something we've never done nor know anything about?
He then said, "You know?  I don't know if I'm afraid of how I'll die or why?  But more afraid of not being ready to go."  

And there was an instant lump in my throat and sag of my shoulders and I just wanted to say, "Oh, me too Bob.  Me too.  That same fear follows me daily."

On the way home, a trunk full of groceries, I thought and thought about this idea, in response to Bob's concerns for his own life.
There has to be a way.  To do this life without fear.  Without regret. 
Actually, I know there is.  
It's called God + PRESENCE.
And I know many would say faith isn't necessary.  Belief in a higher power won't change a thing.  Maybe not.
But WITH faith (I'm discovering,) comes a beautiful ability to accept and surrender to whatever life hands you.  Not to say you will always do this willingly, but there is an underlying peace that everything is just as it is supposed to be, whether we label our life circumstances as "good" or "bad."
Good or bad doesn't matter.  It just is.

I write about being present so much because despite my understanding of it's importance in living a full life, it's my biggest challenge every day.
When I actually CAN allow the moment to be?  I have glorious glimpses of the TRUTH.
That my past doesn't matter nor does my future.
I'm just here.
And that's all there ever needs to be.  
In being fully present in the smallest of things. . .from watching our children brush their teeth in the midst of our evening exhaustion to savoring a grand sun set over an ocean, nothing brings you closer to your true self and to knowing God.
I remember reading a blog post from a woman I knew who fought breast cancer for years, before it finally became terminal.  She knew she was dying and talked openly about it.  She had accepted she would be leaving shortly, but she said, "Ah, I just wish I didn't have to leave all this fun so soon."  How heartbreaking but beautiful her attitude was towards her own body's passing.  She didn't want to go yet but had accepted her fate, because she had God. 
I look more intently at the people who I feel "get it."
Not that they're doing life perfectly, by any means.
BUT.  They're AWAKE.  Awakened to their own power as human spirits to use their time, their wealth, their compassion to give and support the lives of others, 
but also walk humbly with hands and hearts so open and so full of gratitude and a love of God,
that giving becomes greater than any receiving,
judgement and resentment aren't necessary because they're too full of love to bother.  
THAT is how I want to live and the people I want my children to become.

I love and remind myself DAILY of one of the most beautiful suggestions I have come across in the past year and a half in my growing and renewing in FAITH.

"If you can rest your head at the in-step of God, you are free."  -Mooji

If you can wake up every day grateful for your rising and surrender the day to God, rest your head at His feet, you don't need to strive towards anything. 
There is nothing to control.  Nothing to fight.  Nothing to prove.  No one to impress.
No ego to indulge.  You ARE free.  
Free to live and give fully, without regret, without fear and with unlimited love.



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