A man stood in line in front of me, as those who wait in lines often do. When the associate didn't come for a while, he turned toward me and shrugged with good nature. I agreed by shrugging back.
As we waited, the kind man spoke to me. It became clear from the beginning his speech was slow and garbled. I didn't catch his words the first time, but turned my ear, moved in closer and listened to the back of his throat for the sounds.
"I'm sorry? (Could you repeat that?)"
"I was here earlier, too and couldn't get any help."
"Oh, really?" I made polite conversation, and understood it was likely hard, and possibly embarrassing for him to ask for assistance. So, I picked up what I thought to be a cue, and asked the nearest associate for help.
When that employee walked away to page a member of the photo department, the man again attempted to make conversation.
"I have a hard time because I have ALS."
"ALS? Lou Gehrig's disease." His eyebrows popped with what I interpreted to be relief. Relief that he had come across somebody who understood his speech...had some familiarity with his disease.
Just when we were making new friends and didn't mind the waiting, an associate came. We were parted for a little bit to tend to our affairs, but the kind man sought me out once again when he was done.
"How did you know it was called Lou Gehrig's disease?"
"I have a dear friend whose mother (don't say, 'died') suffered from the disease." I held the word back, although I knew it was no stranger to him.
As I stood before this man, I estimated him to be a working class, well experienced, reasonably well read-man. I searched my mind for ways to comfort him/something to say. But what purpose - other than patronization - could the comfort of a 29 year old acquaintance serve to a rugged, capable sufferer?
"I have lost the control of the muscles and ligaments in my throat, and part of my leg. That's why it's hard for me to speak."
"That must be very hard." Grasping for ways to comfort him, I spoke warmly.
"Well, there is nothing they can do."
"Bless you, sir. I will be praying for you. It was very nice to meet you." I shook his hand. Trying to understand his speech was becoming taxing. What more could we talk about? It was a likely time to leave.
"It was nice to meet you too."
I drove from Walgreens with regret in my heart.
Should I have talked to him longer? Should I have asked him about his photos? Should I have hugged him in place of a cowardly handshake?
I should have asked him if he knew that Jesus could comfort him.
Though I still have some regret like a cloud over my head, I know in time that cloud will dissipate. I am grateful, what will remain is the watered seed of a memory. A reminder to pray for my long suffering new friend. A cautionary tale to not to take for granted such an exceptional meeting.
Where ever you are, my friend - please forgive me. What is your name?