Touched By a Stranger

Today my life was touched by a man I did not know.

I often have occasion to drive by a veteran’s memorial park when I have errands to run or family to visit. A week ago, I noticed yellow police tape encircling the small parking area of the memorial. I knew something bad had happened. Either some poor soul suffered a heart attack or someone had committed suicide. I spotted a short, odd-looking fellow with a large black rectangular case walking toward a car. Forensics. My guess was a suicide.

Today, while reading the local newspaper, I couldn’t help but cry as I read an article that proved my assumption was correct. Did this man have any idea how profoundly he might touch someone even after death? Like George Bailey in A Wonderful Life, we never realize when or how our lives will touch others, even in a small way.

I often wonder if the hysterical lost boy I helped in the book store will remember me when he grows older and if he, in turn, will have an opportunity to help another frightened, neglected child; or if the driver I honked my horn at will remember the impatient woman behind him and be more patient with a thoughtless driver the next time he encounters one; or if the woman I gave an extra coupon in the grocery line will someday offer the same small gesture to someone else; or if something I’ve written will influence a person in a positive way without me intending it or even thinking it possible.

We never how the little things we do in our lives will impact someone else.

I didn’t know the man in the parked car. He might not have been a nice person at all. But I choose to think of him as a lost soul. No matter what his story was in life, he just needed a soft touch or a warm hand to hold in his final hours. I wish I could have been there for him, even if it was only to give him one last friendly smile.

The little memorial park is picturesque. A nice place to sit, with flowers and shrubs and, of course, the flagpoles and granite memorial as the central focus. A swift creek cuts through one corner. A perfect little spot.

I ask myself: Why here? Why this parking lot? I have a dozen scenarios flicker through my brain. But I will never know the truth.

Every time I drive by, I’ll think of those men and women the park was meant to memorialize but I’ll also think about the man sitting alone in his older model sedan, parked precisely between the lines. I’ll think about the depth of his sorrow and wonder if he ever imagined someone he didn’t even know would shed a tear for him.

I don’t judge. If we are all honest with ourselves, we’ll admit to being “there” at some point in our lives. Thinking about the worth of it all. I don’t know what sends someone over that infinitesimal edge, but I understand the pain that leads us all to think about it on occasion.

In the end, I think our desire as human beings isn’t so much about being remembered as it is a hopefulness that our presences here was somehow worth it. That through our mere existences something else was made manifest.

So, as a tribute, I’m going to write something – a short story or perhaps a poem – to honor: The man I did not know.


8 thoughts on “Touched By a Stranger

  1. Thanks for this. I try to do something similar in my fiction. I like to get into a character’s head, especially the dark side of self destructive behavior. The military experience, since forever, has gone hand in hand with suicide, kill others and then kill yourself when you cannot stand the memories and dreams. Logic and linear thinking are at the opposite end of how a person like this thinks he is thinking. Not many of us spin out a scenario, a what-if, like you have here.

    Proud to have your same last name and thanks for finding me awhile back.


    1. Thanks, Charles. It still makes me cry when I think about it. Having “seen the light” once, I can only hope he found that profound peace I believe we all experience when we die. Whether it is a fleeting thing – something biological that happens to our bodies – or something more, I don’t know. But I hope this man was able to experience it.


  2. Our brothers and sister go before us and it is up to us to listen to their lives. If we can just take the time to listen as you have we might avoid that moment when one feels like one’s life has been wasted. No examined and reflected upon life is a waste.


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