No greater love
There was something about him that drew me in.
His face was tanned and weather beaten, lined with life experience. And while he didn’t play much part in the conversation, he didn’t seem unnaturally quiet either.
He was simply an old gentleman who had accompanied his wife to visit friends at their lakeside cottage. He was perfectly content listening to the ladies chat while the menfolk enjoyed the breathtaking view and a cup of hot coffee in the warm June sun.
Which is exactly what he was doing when two neighbours and their dog passed by, waved ‘good morning’, and were invited to come over and join them.
He rose to shake my hand as customary introductions were made. Our eyes met, and he smiled. Extra chairs were drawn up to the little garden table on the wooden patio and convivial small talk ensued. We all agreed that the coffee was perfect, the Midsummer celebrations had been wonderful and that, regrettably, it would probably rain later that day.
I don’t know how long we’d been sitting there when I realised, to my horror, that I’d lost track of the conversation and was starring at him. Couldn’t tear my eyes away. He seemed oddly familiar, yet I was quite certain I had never seen him before in my life.
And I wasn’t the only one mysteriously drawn to his aura.
Our dog had wriggled in between two chairs and placed his head on the visitor’s knee. Delighted with this unexpected overture of border collie affection, the old man’s eyes twinkled as he lovingly ran his hands through Jeff’s silky fur.
Which is when I saw it and understood.
This man’s hands were my father’s hands. Identical in size, shape and colour – even the same rough texture from working too much in the sun. These were the hands that had loved me and held me. Shown me and comforted me.
I may have gasped out loud, both in surprise and at the stab of pain that always sears through my soul at the unexpected thought of my Dad. Even now, several years after his death. I love him. Dearly.
And for a brief moment I actually wondered: Do angels exist? Is this…?
I looked again. Looked for confirmation one way or the other. I looked at the middle finger on his left hand. Or to be specific, at his nail.
Because many, many years ago, when I was a child of around nine years old, my father dropped me off at school. He checked I had my snack money, kissed me, told me he’d see me that evening and waved goodbye. I kissed him back, hopped out of the car, waved madly and skipped through the school gate.
So I was horrified that evening to see Dad now sported a black protective sheath over a hospital-bound finger. He laughed and explained how he’d clumsily hit it with a hammer, that accidents happen, that it didn’t hurt anymore, and that I shouldn’t worry. His finger gradually healed, but not the nail. It was damaged at the root and always regrew with a deep dent. This was the dent I wanted to see. Or not see. I wasn’t sure.
The old gentleman before me, who was still loving Jeff, had a full set of healthy nails.
And now that I looked again, I could spot other dissimilarities between his hands and Dad’s hands. He really was simply an old gentleman who had come with his wife to spend time with friends. But nevertheless, the whole encounter left me with a strange, soothing sense of having just briefly spent time with my father. I’m not going to try and defend it, or explain it, because I can’t. I’m simply relating the way it was.
Which was not what my father had done when he reassured his daughter about his finger. Dad’s dented nail was not evidence of clumsy craftsmanship. It was evidence of the greatest love of all – a parent’s love for his child.
Because on that fateful day many years ago, a canny witness would have noted that the parent waved goodbye with the ‘wrong hand’. The hand that was furthest away from the passenger car window. And that the happy child did not see her father reopen the door she had just slammed shut. Or see her Dad retrieve his crushed finger and set off for the hospital now his beloved daughter was safely out of sight.