To the old man behind the Notre Dame
You couldn’t have known, as I stood there under the light Paris drizzle, that my heart was drowning in a sea of grief. You were making your way out of the Square Jean XXIII; I was standing near the gate. My ears were pounding, my hands were shaking, and I’m afraid I didn’t bother to give you a glance as you approached.
“Hello,” you said.
One word — a lifebuoy.
You asked me where I was from and who I was with. Your eyes were kind as you listened to my halting answers. When I returned the question, you said you were from Spain.
“Which part?” I asked politely.
You could see it didn’t ring any bells for me, so you added, “You know the Camino de Santiago?”
My eyes lit up in recognition — I had read it in a book a long time ago — and you smiled.
You couldn’t quite remember what the capital of the Philippines was, but you knew we were once under Spanish rule. You said you would like to travel to Asia. You asked if I was Catholic; I said yes, in fact, I was waiting for vespers to start. You nodded your head politely and said, well, you better go.
It struck me then how the conversation actually seemed like a bit of an effort for you. I realized belatedly that you seemed rather shy, almost as unused to talking to strangers as I was. And I wondered.
You couldn’t have known I needed someone to be kind to me that day — but did you?