By Jenny Rapson
As wary parents, we caution our kids about talking to strangers, but as mom and writer Tara Wood learned, it’s not always a bad thing to give a stranger a few words—kind ones—and some of your time, even if you don’t know him from Adam. Wood learned this recently in a most unexpected way—at the grocery store. Her teacher? Her 4-year-old daughter, Norah.
Wood explained this life-changing lesson her daughter taught her on her 4th birthday in a post she wrote for TODAY Parenting. She says while she and Norah were in the grocery shopping for birthday cupcakes, Norah, who has a “soft spot” for elderly people, spotted an older man, stood up in the cart and yelled, “Hi old person! It’s my birfday today!” An embarrassed Wood was surprised when the “stone-faced” man’s expression softened and he replied, “Well hello little lady! And how old are you today?”
With just those few simple words, an epic friendship was born. They parted after chatting for a minute or two, but Norah couldn’t let it be. She wanted a “birfday” picture with her new friend. Wood explains what happened next:
We found the man a couple of aisles over and I approached him. “Excuse me, sir? This is Norah and she’d like to know if you’d take a photo with her for her birthday?”
His expression rapidly morphed from confused to stunned to delighted.
He took a step back, steadied himself on his shopping cart and placed his free hand on his chest. “A photo? With me?” he asked.
“Yes, suh, for my birfday!” Norah pleaded.
And so he did. I pulled out my iPhone and they posed together. She placed her soft hand on top of his soft hand. He wordlessly stared at her with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered knuckles. She kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek. He beamed. I asked his name and he told us to call him “Dan.”
We were blocking other shoppers and they didn’t care. There was magic happening in the grocery store that day and we could all feel it. Norah and Mr. Dan sure didn’t notice they were chatting away like long lost friends.
After a few minutes, I thanked Mr. Dan for taking the time to spend a bit of his day with us. He teared up and said, “No, thank YOU. This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time. You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.”
Wood says she was “blown away” by the encounter, and decided to post about it on her blog’s Facebook page. Soon, someone local had recognized Mr. Dan in the photo and messaged Wood with some information about him. He had recently lost his wife, Mary, and was very lonely. After learning that, Wood knew that he and Norah’s friendship was meant to be. She continues this precious story,
We made a visit to Mr. Dan’s cozy and tidy house — reminders of Mary still proudly displayed everywhere you look. He had gotten a haircut, shaved, and was wearing slacks and dress shoes. He looked ten years younger. He’d set out a child’s table, blank paper, and crayons out for Norah. He asked if she’d draw some pictures for him to display on his refrigerator. She happily agreed and went right to work.
We ended up spending nearly three hours with Mr. Dan that day. He was patient and kind with my talkative, constantly moving girl. He wiped ketchup off of her cheek and let her finish his chicken nuggets.
Wood says Mr. Dan and Norah have each reached into the other’s heart. Now, she says, Mr. Dan is part of their family, forever.
Norah asks about Mr. Dan every day. She worries about him. She wonders if he’s lonely, or cold, or has cheese for his sandwiches. She wants him to be okay. She wants him to feel loved.
Mr. Dan thinks about Norah, too. After another recent visit, he relayed that he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since his wife died. He told me that he has slept soundly every night since meeting my girl. “Norah has healed me,” he said.
That left me speechless and my cheeks wet with tears.
Seventy-eight years separate these two people in age. Somehow, their hearts and souls seem to recognize each other from long ago.
Norah and I have made a promise to see Mr. Dan every week — even if it’s only for fifteen minutes, even if only for a quick hug and to drop off a cheese danish (his favorite!).
I’ve invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us. He’s part of our family now. Whether he likes it or not, he’s been absorbed into my family of nine and just like Norah said, “we’re gonna love him all up.”
Sometimes talking to strangers can lead to beauty full new beginnings. Give it a try.
I have to admit, this story absolutely drove me to tears! Leave it to a child to teach us about reaching out to a “stranger,” about being willing to open our hearts to others, and about truly LOVING our neighbors, taking time to see the person bustling by in the grocery store instead of just tuning them out. Well done, Norah, and well done to her mama for allowing her to pursue this friendship!
If Norah and Mr. Dan’s friendship inspires you, please share it on Facebook!