Sometimes in life, we don’t have to meet people. And we don’t have to have them know us. It seems to be more common than not that we encounter people through prayer that we have never met and will never know.
By Carrie Gress
You can be learn a lot about a person when you drive by his home daily for years.
I don’t remember when I started paying attention to John’s home, but it must have been within months of moving into our new neighborhood over a decade ago. I actually never met him. I’m not even sure his name is John, but that’s what sticks in my mind; a good strong name for a man nearing the end of his life; the kind of man they don’t seem to make anymore.
I would often see John and his wife getting in and out of the car together. Somewhere, I heard they went to my parish, so I kept an even closer eye, hoping I might see them at church. But months, perhaps even years, went by, and I saw one day that she looked very frail and needed his strength to get into the car. It was the last time I saw her. Neighbors reported that she died.
My eyes turned to John’s home more often in the back and forth. How lonely he must be. How hard this transition must be. He has lived in that house for decades with his wife and now she is gone. I started to pray for him.
I was assured when I saw his son’s car, or at least, that’s who I assumed he was. His son would be out cutting the grass or tending to other outdoor projects. It was a consolation that John was not alone in the world but that he had a loving son.
Years would go by, and I drove up past his home on my way to Mass, or the grocery store, or any other errand of life. And again on my way home. I’d glance at his home, as I did the neighborhood, taking it all in. But sometimes I would pray and wonder how he was, seeing him occasionally outside watering, or getting the mail.
One day I saw the “For Sale” sign. Oh, dear, had John died? His car was still in the driveway, but I hadn’t seen him in a long time. I prayed ardently for his soul.
And then I saw him, out in the driveway.
Oh, phew. He is just moving.
Perhaps he is moving in with his son? I prayed for the move, as I saw cars with people coming to look at his home. Then the “For Sale” sign hung with a new sign: “Under Contract.” Trade vans and trucks came and went, ticking off the to-do list for the inspection. As the days wore on, the trades gave way to an auction van, then a moving van.
Looking at real estate comps in our neighborhood for an unrelated search, I saw photos of his home. I could see the inside had changed very little since his child or children had left home. It was clean and well-loved. It made me sad to think of the last time he would leave this place he had inhabited for decades and the moment he would finally lock the door with the years-worn key, never to unlock it again. How hard it would be to say goodbye to this place that populated the bulk of his memories, of his wife, of his son, his life. I prayed that he was going to place a that would help fill the gap left by the walls, and stairs, and windows, and everything else he was leaving behind.
I knew the day must be coming when he would move and I would never see him again. Pangs of guilt hit me. Perhaps I should have reached out to him? Brought him cookies? A pie? But waves of babies and a dissertation and books and all of the other demands of life kept me from the doorstep. But I felt like I needed to say goodbye to him and wish him well.
It seemed an odd thing to want to say goodbye to this man whom I’d never met and who certainly wouldn’t know me. Time was running out. One night, I saw a flurry of cars in the driveway and I got up the courage to ask if they were his family. “No,” the answer came. “He has moved. We are moving into this house.” I smiled and welcomed them and wished them the best in the new home.
Perhaps it was the right ending to have never met him in person. Sometimes in life, we don’t have to meet people. And we don’t have to have them know us in order to care for them. It seems to be more common than not that we encounter people through prayer that we have never met and will never meet; the souls in purgatory, the souls who are in most need of God’s mercy, an unborn child, the hungry, the suffering, the lonely, and on and on.
And maybe I'm mistaken about John, his name, the person I thought was his son, and everything else. But my prayers for him remain something true, and solid, and heard.
And someday… someday… we will meet all the people we don't know. We will then know all the things we missed. And we will also know all those strangers who prayed for us.