Today, after a sushi dinner we drove though the drizzle to a coffee shop across the way. As we drove the short distance from cafe to coffee shop I swerved to avoid hitting an elderly man hunched over in gray slacks, dress shoes and a long beige trench coat, his hand gripped a small bag filled with papers as he walked slowly in the center of the parking lot.
Pulling up to the coffee shop I left the engine running and jumped out to see if they were open. “We’re closed” said the barrista as she wiped down the counter. Closing the door I heard a mumble- the elderly man we swerved to avoid stood inches from me. He struggled to speak. As one wary of strangers at dark hours my instinct urged me to walk away. But I didn’t. I waited as the cold rain trickled down my cheek until his words found the voice to express themselves “Coffee shop down the street. Its open.” I thanked him. He smiled. I got in my car and left. Exiting the parking lot I saw him in my rear view mirror as he briefly stumbled, caught his step and continued walking hunched shoulders stooped as the cold rain pelted upon him in the dark night.
I recently read “The History of Love” which speaks of profound loneliness and the desperation it can instill. The man elderly and alone without family or friend says “I try to make a point of being seen… I’ll buy a juice though I’m not thirsty… All I want is not to die on a day that I went unseen” This is why I stood in the cold rain waiting for him to share his thoughts. His reasons may not have been the same, but the compassion with which I stopped to listen to him and not out of instinct walk away from a stranger stemmed from my reading. Some mock fiction as valueless diversion. Yet how else but through reading could I have understood this man? If we are to truly be human, isn’t understanding one another, the most valuable pursuit there could be? Fiction is more than just words strung together to entertain, fiction can help us appreciate the world we live in, and more so the people who inhabit it. For this reason I read.