Early December I was approaching the entrance of a mall with one of my kids. A man exited the door. His head was down. He was wearing sunglasses. He was dressed in business casual attire. And he appeared to be in a hurry. No bags in his hands. Simply on a mission to leave I surmised. He was the only other person around. Within milliseconds of observing him, I also concluded that he was someone I knew. But it was someone I had not seen in over five years and who had worked with my husband back in his big four accounting days. It was someone I had only talked to a handful of times. And yet…it really looked like him. But why would he be here? I was not in his neck of the woods. And yet…if it was him…I’d really hate to miss saying hi and connecting.
In an attempt to avoid making a fool of myself if it wasn’t him, I decided I would wait for him to pass me and then call out his name.
I said his name.
His head shot around as his body abruptly halted. Yep. It was him. I knew it!
His recognition of me wasn’t as fast as mine had been of him. Thankfully after saying my name and who I was married to, he immediately walked up to me knowing exactly who I was. I thought he was going to give me a handshake but then realized he was going for a hug. I gladly adjusted and gave him one. Clearly he had been in a hurry, so I said I didn’t want to keep him. Shortly, we parted ways.
As I continued my way into the mall, my smile was huge and my heart was feeling super warm. The euphoric mood didn’t quickly dissipate.
Occasionally I go through these type of moments that take me by surprise leaving me wanting to ponder and understand them. Why would a sudden, unexpected hug from this person bring me such joy? How can there be so much power in such a quick encounter?
As I reflect, I think I understand.
My very first interaction with this guy was many years ago when I thought Ryan might be dead. It’s a long story, but the bottom line is, this guy received my frantic call looking for Ryan. Ryan ended up being totally fine. And I will always be grateful to this man for answering the phone in that horrible moment. (For those who have their curiosity overly raised at this point, let me explain. Ryan had been out of town for a business trip. I expected him back in town and to have gone to work all day and then come home. However, I never heard from him. Never heard he had made it to the airport. Or made it back in town. Or made it to work. Or anything. The whole day passed. Evening came. I heard nothing. I finally called him. He didn’t answer his phone. For hours. I started getting very concerned. I ended up looking up his phone records online and calling the last number he had connected with. That was this guy. Though he didn’t know where Ryan was at that exact moment, he at least confirmed Ryan had been alive that afternoon. The mystery lasted for a bit longer but finally had a happy ending. Ryan had been in a four hour long work conversation that was driving him crazy and had left his phone in another room (and this is way before Apple Watches or Find My existed. We actually didn’t even have iPhones yet ourselves and weren’t texting yet. Amazing to think how much the world has changed!). So, all the time I was worried, he was talking accounting stuff and having his patience tried. Our communication has improved since this incident.)
A few years after our first interaction, this same guy (who happened to be a partner at the huge accounting firm) was the one in our six person celebratory work dinner party who spilled not one but TWO glasses of red wine at a very fancy, expensive Atlanta restaurant with white tablecloths. It was HILARIOUS. Coincidentally, my day had been very hard. His faux pas absolutely made my day and has frequently been recounted by Ryan and myself. (After the mall encounter, this is actually how I identified the guy when telling the story to the kids.)
At one work event, this man’s wife had given me some great advice of how she had survived so many years with a husband working at a big four accounting firm. She had cared and been understanding and I always appreciated that helpful conversation with her.
Additionally, I had been in this man’s home. A Christmas work party. Another memorable occasion.
But Ryan had left the firm. No more interaction with this guy.
And yet – five years later – FIVE years since connecting, this man suddenly and unexpectedly pops into my life and I was overjoyed to see him. And that helped me understand that it doesn’t matter how much time passes since seeing someone that you have forged a relationship with, you can instantly reconnect. And I needed that encouragement. See, a year ago, our family had to say bye to dear friends who moved far away, and it’s been tremendously hard. Due to their calling in life, I cannot just text, email, or call whenever I want to. They still love me, but they don’t have the bandwidth for maintaining frequent communication. Though I anticipate eventually seeing them again some day, I have feared losing the closeness and connection we have enjoyed. I have wondered how the future will be with them and have been scared. However, if I my heart can be so warmed after seeing Ryan’s former co-worker, I think everything will be just fine when I am once again reunited with my long-distance friends. Additionally, God has graciously given me two other recent encounters with friends that I have not seen in many years. Despite zero interaction for years, we immediately reconnected as well. Hearts can stay glued together no matter how many miles they are pulled apart or how many seconds accumulate between hugs. That is how we were designed. Praise God!
And, honestly, this whole COVID experience made that unexpected hug at the mall even more priceless. That man didn’t hesitate for a second to come and hug me. With all I’ve been through the past two years with people all over the spectrum on masks, vaccines, etc., that total acceptance of me and lack of any fear felt really, really good. God knew exactly what I needed to be perfectly encouraged that day. Praise Him.