A Strange Encounter, Indeed

American Diner, flash fiction

It was a beautiful May morning, not that many years ago. The sun was cheery. I received a call from my sister Diane earlier in the day. She was in the area, and wanted to know If JoAnn and I (my significant other) wanted to go out for breakfast at Misty Moonlight with herself and her fiance, Roger. This diner was one of those retro ones with ’50s decor that were all the rage a few years back. I had never been in the joint since it was renovated, which was a long time ago. We all agreed that it would be wonderful to meet there, and reminisce about things. The breakfast was good. JoAnn had many pleasant meals there, mostly because the woman who waited on her was one of those amiable souls who have a singular knack for making you feel like you are the only person that matters. I had the vegetable omelette with wheat toast and hash browns. Diane talked about her recent experiences running in the masters division with a Boston team, the Masters Velocity Track Club. Roger, who was always delightfully witty, regaled us with tales from the music world, when he was a musician and hobnobbed with musical royalty. Like the time he got to meet Joan Baez on stage when he was 19 years old.  After we ate, we paid the bill and walked to the parking lot. While we were saying our goodbyes, somebody drove by in a turquoise van that glinted in the spring sunlight. We could see three children sticking their heads out of the window. They were waving to us, smiling expansively even at us – apparent strangers.  I was immediately convinced he was a work associate by the name of Sam, who I had almost forgotten due to the ravaging effects on time on the human memory. My seeing him that day was evidence that even those who seemed damned are not beyond redemption. He had fallen into that nightmarish purgatory of opiate addiction, and when I had last left him it seemed a forgone conclusion that he would be forever lost. It was nice to see him – he had not succumbed. I could tell that he had made it because their was a wordless joy in his eyes. A joy that was instantly transmitted to me, and filled me that same transcendent joy. When I had seen him last, that joy had all but left.

To JoAnn, the man was a beloved political figure named James, who had frequently haunted the establishment. A veritable pillar of the community. She had thought that perhaps ill health had gotten the best of him. He once was a dreamer and was going to reform a system that was irrevocably broken. He had become disillusioned, and retreated into an apathetic disregard for all save his most immediate family members.  “I always loved it when I bump into him”, she thought to herself. “I am glad he’s back!”  She felt something…he was radiating an ecstasy from every pore of his being. Her ability to feel the emotions of others was suddenly more acute.  She was convinced that her old friend had been able to escape from his own private hell, even though she did not talk to him face to face. Some things you just know.

Diane was convinced that he was somebody she used to run races with back in college and who she had not heard of in years.  His name was Walter, and he too, was lost to the ravages of time. At least, her memory of him was. She had once had a passion for running when she and Walter were in college. Walter always inspired Diane to do her best. She lost all interest soon after her friend was unable to keep in touch with her. They were the best of friends, bosom buddies and all. That all had vanished long ago. They had argued over something. A petty irritant nudged between them and happiness, and the two had parted. But here he was, restored to her. She wanted to cry.

Her faith in the world had been fully restored. This mysterious entity apparently had the power to make some of  us see who we most wanted to or had to see that day. Roger was the only one who saw the person as he was. Perhaps he did not need the lesson that was being imparted to the rest of us. Perhaps, already, he knew that we are all the same self in different disguises. There was magic afoot. Magic of the most ordinary, yet poignant, sort. Namely, that quality of the human imagination to resurrect memories of loved ones from the past.  And in this case, a little something more. An ability to see that we are all interconnected – part of one vast consciousness. That nobody what tragedy befalls us, it will be all right in the end. After all, what can harm that pulsating life force that underlies all of physical creation? It’s  a funny thing, imagination. We can use it to tear ourselves down – to create a private hell for ourselves through guilt and reliving horrendous things. But it can also preserve what is seemingly lost. It can invoke once more those who have passed into the vestiges of time. We need to lovingly curate our memories. Keep the ones that mean the most to us and let the others go.

The human mind can be a repudiation of entropy – that mysterious force in the universe that can, in its rapacious hunger, swallow up whole galaxies.  It works in tandem with spirit to do this. Was that inscrutable stranger some sort of magician, a wizardly presence with three snot-nosed kids in tow? Or did the moment serendipitously offer us up a precious gift.? An opportunity to use our imaginative faculties to conjure up a a little magic of their own? Methinks there were wondrous forces afoot in the parking lot that morning…supernal energies beyond our ability to understand them. Whether they were bestowed on us by outside forces, or was alchemy of our own devising, I will leave for you to decide. Anyway, the thing to remember about what happened is that magic happens all the time in the universe.

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