Sharing an Umbrella with a Stranger

After a lovely dinner with my son at Pizza Classica in Forest Hills, my husband and I decided to walk to Banter Irish Bar. We were in the mood for a Guinness, and the Mets and Yankees were playing. It was a good excuse to teach my British hubby the finer points of America’s favorite pastime.

On the way, we popped in and out of shops. Of course, the moment we exited the final one, we found ourselves in the middle of a downpour. As my husband pulled our umbrellas out of his backpack, I noticed an older couple standing next to us under the awning, waiting out the storm. Without thinking, I opened my umbrella and asked the woman if I could walk her to her car or wherever she was headed. She smiled and accepted graciously, telling me she lived just a few blocks up the road. And so, huddled under my umbrella—our men behind us—we started walking.

Weather is usually the first topic of conversation with a stranger. Our circumstances made it even more appropriate. We commiserated about the heat and humidity and agreed the frequent rain had made everything lush and green. In contrast, people out west were besieged by heatwaves, drought, and raging wild fires. We couldn’t imagine what it would be like to endure such conditions, but we were empathetic nevertheless. We’ve all experienced loss in some way or another.

As we crossed the street, the woman entwined her fingers around my forearm to help me support the umbrella and asked my name. She was Octavia, so named because she was the eighth child in her family. We spoke of our children. Hers lived in the suburbs. Their peaceful neighborhoods were lovely for a visit, but she enjoyed returning to the hustle and bustle of her city home. She didn’t mind the noise, and she needed to interact with people. We laughed. No surprise that we had found each other.

She pointed out her church across the street and told me she was Catholic. I had been raised Catholic, too. My husband and I love visiting churches when we travel. She suggested we visit hers someday; it was beautiful inside.

Half a block from our destination, I expressed my pleasure at meeting her—an upbeat end to a day that had begun with a family member’s worrying health news. “I’ll pray for him,” she said with such compassion. I truly believed she would.

Then we said our goodbyes. As my husband and I walked away, it felt as if a firm compress had been applied to an open wound that had been hemorrhaging faith in humanity the last couple of years. I hope she felt the same way.

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