As the hot tears rolled down her cheeks, I knew I had asked the wrong question. The words reverberated in my mind: Widowed or divorced? I looked into the lady’s eyes, now dampened with the miserable tears my words had caused.
“Well, you could call me widowed,” she replied. “My husband died five months ago today.”
Her face, a haunted mask as she looked away, searched the racks as if he might appear. Tears again welled in her eyes, when she didn’t find him, and she was unable to blink them back.
“I am so sorry,” I mumbled. “I needed it to fill out your credit application.” I wished I had allowed her to check the box herself. I knew well enough that words spoken aloud hold more pain than those unspoken.
“Don’t worry about it, honey,” she soothed. “If I never thought about it, I would not remember the love and the memories we shared. Even after 50 years of marriage, each passing moment would bring a deeper meaning to the word love. Now, trust me, I know how foolish that sounds. We had our share of challenging times, but in the end none of that mattered.”
Unsure of what to say, I laughed nervously, not yet aware of the impact those words would have on me. I picked up the phone to relay her information; words hung in the air. My mind was not focused on the current task, and I was unsuccessful in my first few attempts. After finally completing the credit application, I turned to find myself riveted to the lady’s face again.
Her eyes began to sparkle as she proceeded in a heart-to-heart. I couldn’t believe someone could open up to a perfect stranger, but it was not my place to criticize. I enjoyed listening to her just as much as she appreciated having somebody to talk to.
“Have you ever been married?” she asked.
I couldn’t help but laugh. I hadn’t even thought about getting married. Besides, I looked nothing like a married woman - my braces stuck out from my mouth, and my frizzy hair was thrown back into a messy bun.
“Ah, no.” I replied. “I’m only 16.”
“Sixteen?” she murmured, eyes alight with the mystery of shrouded memories. “That’s a great age, an age of lessons. There’s so much worth learning.”
She then spoke in a hushed whisper, sharing the one lesson that I will carry with me the rest of my life. “Never, ever take anyone for granted. If you are in love with someone, let it be known as often as you feel it. Otherwise, life may pass you by. Don’t spend your life angry. The ridiculous arguments you think are important won’t even be remembered in a short time.”
Then, she hugged me and thanked me for letting her talk. As she turned to walk away, I could see that tears still hung in her eyes, but the smile that lit her face was amazing. After she left, I stood there replaying the conversation in my mind and letting her words sink in. Never, ever take anyone for granted. If you are in love with someone, let it be known as often as you feel it.
I have never seen that woman again, but her words of inspiration still live in me. At that time, the words were only little bits of advice. Now, however, they are the words which I try to live by, words that will always remind me of my special friend.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.