For nearly twenty years I had been 1)patronizing a small video store on a country road near my home. Over the years I got to know the 2)proprietor, an 3)amiable, otherwise-retired 4)chap named Don. Don and I regularly5)schmoozed over the counter about movies, our families, our dogs, and philosophies of life. Don’s beloved 6)pooch had gone over the Rainbow Bridge注 a few years earlier, and when I introduced him to my dog, Jacky, Don lit up like a five-year-old boy at Christmas. He abruptly shifted from the checkout, 7)snuggled Jacky on the counter, and magically produced dried chicken-strip treats from behind his back. It didn’t take Jacky long to figure out Don’s 8)M.O., and whenever we came near the store, Jacky would make a wild dash behind the counter, where Don would lift him up and produce the 9)coveted 10)poultry reward.
Once, when I was preparing to present a weekend 11)seminar, I took out about 20 films to show short clips to the participants. When I explained the project to Don at checkout, he refused to take my money. “It’s for educational purposes,” he noted. “They’re 12)on the house.” He also never charged me for late returns.
Across from the counter, on the side of a display 13)rack was a tall, thin poster advertising an old Disney animated 14)flick. On it, the heights of customers’ kids were recorded with horizontal lines accompanied by their names. I found it touching to watch Jonah’s mark rising from year to year. Even though I never met the kid, it felt gratifying to know that somewhere out there a boy was becoming a young man.
A few months ago Don’s son announced that the family was selling the store. Don, now at age 86, otherwise in remarkably good health, had had a few knee surgeries and it was getting harder for him to 15)navigate the 16)terrain of the shop. Don would be moving far away to be with his family, and closing the chapter of his life that 17)interfaced him with the movies, kids, and dogs he loved, as well as the buttered popcorn smell that 18)permeated from the in-store microwave, and the array of candy and red 19)licorice at the checkout.
Although saddened to hear of the end of an era, I was happy that Don’s family loved him enough to take him home and give him the support he needed. In front of the store hung a large sign inviting all the customers, “Come say 20)aloha to Don next Friday night, 6-8 pm.”
That meeting was eventful for me. Don answered the door 21)spryly in his wheelchair and invited me to sit at a couch surrounded by cardboard moving boxes. As I sat in his home, I realized that I had a real relationship with this man. Our friendship had crept up on me gradually, until Don had a place in my heart equal to other people I loved. Now I was going to miss him.
Don proudly pulled out the photo album that recorded his going away party which I had missed. There were lots of people I knew: parents, kids, and dogs posing with their elder friend amid colorful balloons. Everyone contributed to a colorful 22)scrapbook with notes of thanks, poems, and little kids’ 23)crayon drawings of Don and the store. In his own quiet way Don had touched many lives. It wasn’t just the dogs who received treats when they entered. Everybody got a good feeling.
The time came for me to leave, and though we tried to hold back, we all shed a tear. Don was moving far, far away, and we would most likely not see each other again. Goodbyes don’t come easily to me, especially maybe-not-again-in-this-life-goodbyes. Then Don told us in a 24)chipper tone, “Well, I guess I’ll see you in Heaven.”
I remained choked up for the entire ride home. I realized I had been 25)privileged to know a very holy man. Not holy in the sense that he wore robes, talked to or about God, or did miracles. Holy in that he had lived his life with extraordinary kindness, presence, and generosity. On second thought, I guess he did do miracles. In a world where fear, protectionism, and separateness seem to rule, Don reversed those conditions in his little shop on a country road. Maybe I don’t need to wait till we get to Heaven to see Don again, because he made the Earth a little more like Heaven, in his own quiet way.