The spouse and I were in a neighborhood restaurant outside Detroit. It was a Saturday morning and two women of indeterminate age were bantering back and forth in the booth directly in back of me. I didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but it was one of those conversations that people force on you when they are hard of hearing.
It seemed that one of them was heading off on her first European trip. And she was getting scared.
Her lady friend was offering her all kinds of advice on the dangers of pickpockets, the incomprehensibility of the exchange system and how her ignorance of the native tongue would leave her open to all kinds of unsavory characters.
She finally concluded: “Well, what’s the worst that can happen? You come home in a casket.”
I didn’t catch her friend’s response.
Later that same day I was hanging around outside a hospital, getting a few moments of fresh air during a visit.
Hospitals are a chore for everyone — workers, visitors, doctors and nurses. And worst of all for the patients, suffering through that terrible combination of boredom and fear.
A guy came out, a young fellow who didn’t look much over 35. He was lugging his whole setup with him — some kind of attached gizmo that was monitoring who knows what. He was in his pajamas and a robe and was escaping for a smoke.
“I asked my girlfriend to bring me some smokes yesterday,” he said. “She brought four. I asked her why she didn’t bring me a pack. She said she thought she’d get in trouble bringing smokes into a hospital.”
He followed with that look of exasperation with the female race that men only dare show when there are no women around. Frankly, I thought she had a point. Or an excuse. After all, there was a reason the guy was in the hospital and I don’t think smoking was going to help the matter.
I didn’t ask what he was in for, but he volunteered that he was looking at surgery in the morning.
We chatted for a bit about nothing. Guy talk. Sports, rather than the meaning of life. He was smoking in quick bursts, savoring nothing. He was a guy who wanted the next 24 hours gone as soon as possible, but the morning to never come.
It was time for me to go back. He asked what I was there for. Just visiting, I answered, and he looked at me like I was the luckiest guy alive. I told him goodbye, God bless and I’d say a prayer for him. He seemed to appreciate the offer, though a couple of smokes might have been more gratefully received.
The pilgrimage ends only once, whether it’s a young guy looking at surgery in the morning or an elderly woman facing a trip that makes her more nervous with each approaching day.
I hope she forgets her friend’s advice and has the time of her life. I hope he had his surgery and, in the euphoria of survival, decided to make the rest of the pilgrimage smokeless.
We never know the battles people are waging. But we know that everyone has them. That’s why we need to keep praying for each other. Especially the strangers.
Lockwood is former general manager of the Pittsburgh Catholic and diocesan communications director.