I had the house to myself. The football game was a plausible excuse to be doing nothing. The sun had just pulled below the western horizon and the Christmas lights had responded on cue from the timer whirring on the front porch.
I heard a car door shut in front of the house and moments later the door bell rang. The visit surprised me. We have only a few drop-in-unannounced visitors — and it was a little early in the season for friends to be on holiday baking delivery runs.
As I swung the door open, I saw a young woman. She was probably a college student, although my ability to gauge ages has diminished with each passing year. When my eyes met hers, she smiled broadly. “Hi!” I offered. “Hi! she responded as she moved past me into the front hallway.
“Who is this?” I thought. She was now in our living room. The lights from the Christmas tree offered a silhouette, but I still wasn’t able to identify her. She looked vaguely familiar, but, as with age discernment, my powers of recognition are fading as well. Perhaps she is a co-worker of Nancy’s down at the store, I reasoned. Maybe Nancy knows she is coming by and she’ll be home any minute.
About that time, the young woman turned with a puzzled look on her face. At the edges of that look, fear was beginning to paint a more solemn mask. I decided I should blatantly reveal my confusion over the purpose of her visit.
“And who was it you came to see?” I asked. Her eyes showed mixed feelings — relief that I was aware of a problem and apprehension over what was to come.
“Professor Morris,” she said.
“Oh, the Morrises live next door — both of them professors,” I stated. “You missed them by one house.”
She must have known I was wondering why she so willingly crossed the threshold of a home where a stranger opened the door. “I am so sorry,” she said. “When I talked to Professor Morris, she said it would be okay to come over — and that her parents might be visiting. I thought you must be her dad!”
With that explanation and a half-dozen more apologies from her, I ushered her out and assured her that her visit had not been an intrusion. As I made my way back to my recliner, I chuckled. She thought I was Heidi’s father! How preposterous!
As I watched my team continue to make mistakes that would eventually cost them the game, I felt my spirits sink, as well. From this day forward, I would be known as an old man — someone old enough to be mistaken as the father of a college professor. For half an hour, I sat and wondered where my life had gone and questioned whether or not I had met my purpose for existence.
Nancy came in a little later. Reluctantly, I told her of the encounter. I bravely spun the story as a funny one. She didn’t laugh. She just looked at me. “Well, you are old enough to be Heidi’s father, after all.”
The truth of that stung a bit. It was true, of course. My earlier consideration of life and purpose and meaning surfaced again. What was it all about?
A little later, while penning a letter to my son, I realized — my life and my purpose and all of its meaning were wrapped up in that special moment when I opened the door. For that moment, all that mattered was welcoming the stranger. This wasn’t a dramatic episode. No, in fact, it was only one of those benign opportunities we have to gently grace another person. Kindness, even with confusion, fills in the gaps and answers the questions that haunt us. And a pleasant meeting is merely practice for those more difficult times.
Not all of our encounters with strangers will be as comfortable and safe as mine was last night. Yet, every such moment presents a very real opportunity to realize our potential and to embrace the essence of a higher power.
A rather trivial trip to the front door was all God needed to remind me that my well-being is woven in intricate patterns in the lives of those around me — even the strangers.