A Prophecy in Panera

“My mind then wandered. I thought of this: I thought of how every day each of us experiences a few little moments that have just a bit more resonance than other moments—we hear a word that sticks in our mind—or maybe we have a small experience that pulls us out of ourselves, if only briefly—we share a hotel elevator with a bride in her veils, say, or a stranger gives us a piece of bread to feed to the mallard ducks in the lagoon; a small child starts a conversation with us in a Dairy Queen—or we have an episode like the one I had with the M&M cars back at the Husky station.

And if we were to collect these small moments in a notebook and save them over a period of months we would see certain trends emerge from our collection—certain voices would emerge that have been trying to speak through us. We would realize that we have been having another life altogether; one we didn’t even know was going on inside us. And maybe this other life is more important than the one we think of as being real—this clunky day-to-day world of furniture and noise and metal. So just maybe it is these small silent moments which are the true story-making events of our lives.”
Douglas Coupland, Life After God

My grandpa was an exceptional storyteller.  He was eloquent, gentle in stature, but creatively commanding. Two years ago, on October 30th, he went to heaven. I think of him often, especially when I reflect on the stories he shared. And almost weekly I send a stare up to the clouds inviting him to give me a sign that this life I’m living is rich with stories and firm in faith. 

On Sunday I went to Panera for dinner. While at the self-serve kiosk I heard an elderly man place his order with the cashier. He sounded like a Panera newbie. He had several questions and seemed unsure of the menu. At one point the cashier struggled to understand him. I looked up. His profile took my breath away. He looked like my grandpa. As he attempted to order once more the cashier continued to struggle. I politely intercepted so his order could be completed and he turned to face me. With a nod and brief smile, he limped away.

Have you ever had a standstill moment from a quick and seemingly meaningless interaction? Tears fell, my heart raced, and I knew my reaction felt a little too dramatic for the bread, apple, chips decision that accompanied my order. But he looked just like my grandpa.

We ended up at the pick up counter together. I snuck in a few more glances as he stared stoically ahead. I noted his hat, which was the same design my grandpa used to wear, and I instantly wondered if this was some sort of divine sign from angels above.

I drove home violently sobbing, aching for one more story from my grandpa, and knowing that this encounter would be lost on many.

There are coincidences and then there are the things we see because we’re looking for them. I admit that I miss him most this time of year. He’s been on my mind, which might be why I was so invested in the experience. But there’s also trusting instinct and the beauty of beliefs. A few days later I’ve resounded that my great Panera prophecy is this: strangers awake in us a familiar love.

Grandpa, I’m assuming you get to read blogs in heaven. Kiss grandma for me. I love you. P.S. I can only imagine your thoughts on the current political climate.