Unlikely Encounters

It was one o’clock in the morning and I was driving to my home an hour away from the hospital where my wife and son are staying.  I made a pit stop at a Service Area on the New York Thruway that had a McDonald’s.  Having made the initial unexpected trip to the ER during my workday, I was still in my clerical collar.  It just so happened that a busload of Orthodox Jews from Toronto was passing through at the same time.  There was an elderly man in line behind me who obviously spoke English as a second language.  When he tried to buy coffee with Canadian coin, he encountered resistance from the staff behind the counter.  He didn’t seem to understand.

“But the money is good!”

I stepped in and offered to pay.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Just trying to be nice.”

“I don’t like it,” he said in reference to the offered charity.

The cashier suggested that he pay me and I pay her.  That seemed acceptable to him.  He gave me a looney.  I told him I used to live in Canada, so it would be a nice reminder of days gone by.

“Here,” he said as he handed me the coin, “You can keep it as an antique.”

His name is Leo and he is originally from Poland.  He is also a Holocaust survivor.  Although he was only a small boy then, he lost his entire family.  He lives in Toronto now.

I just had to laugh in wonder at the moment: a Holocaust survivor and a Presbyterian minister, both decked out in traditional identifying garb, brought together for the briefest instant of kindness and Tikkun Ha’Olam (‘fixing the world’) by the flowing energies of life, the universe, and God.  I wish I could have sat down and talked with him for longer, but his bus was leaving and he had to go.  We said goodbye and I sat down with my food to listen to the lyrics of the muzak coming over the loudspeakers: “There’s all kinds of people in this world.”

I think I’ll hang onto that looney for a while.