“She’s beautiful,” he said, motioning towards Rory, my 2-year-old, as we stood in line at the store.
He was an older man. Probably just past 60. But he carried a youthful vibe about him. He had a stout, well-trimmed white beard and long white hair underneath a cadet cap.
I appreciated his style. Youthful and vintage was the message he was carefully getting across with his regalia. His eyes peered out from behind quirky spectacles — eyes that showed a life well-lived. In them, I saw rough years followed by good years as I deduced his financial life was in order and he was healthy, but there was something about him that showed he’d been through the mud a time or two. He was trim. Healthy looking. And he had the twinkle in his eye of a trickster. Someone with a great story or two. Someone who could deliver a joke with perfect timing.
“Ahh, thanks,” I mentioned back.
I never quite know how to take that compliment. When I say thanks, it sounds like I’m taking credit. Although my genes did play a role, she could just as easily have turned out butt-ugly. But I suppose a ‘thank you’ is most appropriate, so I went with it.
“I bet your dad is having a lot of fun with her,” the man said, being friendly. “I sure have a blast with mine. Little girls are the best.” He was a grandfather.
We were having such a nice transaction of words. Rory was staring at his beard and smiling. He was making goo-goo eyes back at her. It was very sweet. But right there, when he asked that last question, I was faced with the decision to either fib a little bit a keep the good vibes going, or to tell the truth and make it… awkward… and depressing.
If I were to fib, I’d just reply with a, “Huh, yep, he sure is…” and we would have been fine. But if I were to tell him the truth, I’d have to tell him my dad passed away a few months before he ever got to meet her.
I didn’t want to do that. He’s just a dude. I’ll probably never see him again. Why not just humor him and keep it light?
But I didn’t. I went with the truth. For whatever reason. And just like that, the energy dropped off a cliff. There was dead, awkward silence. His look turned to utter sadness. He stared off behind me a bit, searching for the words to say. I felt like I just stabbed the guy.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said. But the way he said it almost brought tears to my eyes because I could see he was fighting them back too. It was one of the most genuine apologies I’d ever heard.
Here we were. Two men. Two men who understand how horrible it must be to face death just before crossing the finish line and being able to meet your first and only grand child — knowing that you’ll never be able to look into her perfectly blue eyes — eyes that came from yours and every relative who’s survived before you.
I’m sorry to hear that. That’s all he had to say. And it was perfect.
Sorry for making it awkward, kind sir. But thanks for appreciating life with me while standing in line those few precious moments.