Everything on the day of a snowstorm seems surreal. The streets are abandoned and those intrepid folk who venture out all greet each other as they pass, like long lost comrades.
I was surprised that the pastry shop was open. I went in and spotted a neighbor from my street sitting alone at the bar, nursing a cup of coffee. I have had precisely two brief conversations with him over the past 10 years, one when he asked if my daughter (then 13, now 20) would watch his dog for a weekend, and the other when we happened to get off the commuter train at the same time. My impression of him had always been that he preferred to keep to himself and that as a middle-aged woman I was invisible to this young man. It would have been easy enough to pretend I didn’t see him at the counter, or couldn’t place him, and I got the impression he was thinking the same thing.
But for some reason I said, “Hi David,” and to my surprise he replied, “Hi Andrée.” He asked if I was walking back home, and said that if I was, we could walk together. Then I turned to Rose with her apron and ordered a couple of croissants for a neighbor who had invited me over and breakfast sandwiches for my husband and son. Rose rang me up and I suddenly thought I was short of cash. David at the bar piped up, “Don’t worry, I’ll cover you.” It turns out I did have enough, with two cents to spare, but it had been a lovely gesture.
Just then the pastry shop’s owner came out from the kitchen to the counter just as another customer walked in and exclaimed at how many businesses were open in spite of the inclement weather. The owner joked that that was because men would rather brave the elements than stay at home with their wives. He added that that was why he had come to work—to get away from his mother (with whom he lives).
This is the kind of social situation that makes me squirm. The gathering was lighthearted, and the new customer laughed at the joke, but I knew it was a poisoned remark, the kind about which Jesus said:
“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give an account for every careless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).
I glanced quickly at David to see whether he would take the bait and do the easy thing we tend to do—laughing at evil out of fear of man, and then feeling diminished in our souls for having done so. But he did not laugh or smile, and the owner, not having gotten his “stroke,” walked off to the back room. I was impressed.
On the walk home, David told me that his wife and two little kids were staying with his folks in a nearby town that hadn’t lost power during the storm. He seemed to miss them. When he said goodbye and entered his house, I walked on, thinking his wife was a blessed woman indeed.