I had just started my pedicure when he walked through the door. I could tell he was a regular by the way the staff greeted him and he seemed so happy to be there. They sat him next to me and the nail tech helped him remove his shoes and socks before he plunged his feet into the warm, jetted water.
We struck up a conversation and chit-chatted about his grown kids and the loss of his wife. They had been married half a decade and she had passed the year before. It was still raw for him, he cried as he told me how he missed her and of course, I cried, too. At one point he pulled out a little bottle of something-something “cure-all” and showed me how he puts a few drops in his mouth every day for overall good health, and then he proceeded to rub it on a sore on his arm. “It works for pretty much everything,” he said. And then he handed me the bottle and told me he wanted me to have it. He had put a masking-tape label on it with some barely-legible writing. I held it in my hand as he told more tales of its medicinal miracles.
We laughed as he shared that he can’t really reach his toes anymore so it’s hard for him to cut his nails. We cried all over again when he shared that he had lost two of his grown children and hard that was. “But it was even more painful to see how much my wife was hurting,” he said. He showed me her picture as I tried to focus through my tears.
Through that immense pain, they stayed together through the years. She was broken and all he could do is love her and from what I could tell he did that well until she took her last breath.
At the end of our half hour together I felt like I had just sat through a Lifetime movie. We brewed up a plan to meet up again the next month for pedis and then we exchanged numbers.
Raymond called me the next month and asked if we could possibility get our toes done at his independent living facility. I thought about it and said, “Sure. Let’s try it out.” Honestly, I wasn’t super crazy about the idea because I loved my salon, but I conceded in the name of new friendship and a few days later I met Raymond in his lobby.
We started out on a tour of the building. I saw the bingo hall, movie theater, game room, library and hair salon. And during the tour we ran into dozens of his friends (he was adored by all). He invited me to lunch which was already over by the time we got to the cafeteria. We were greeted by an extremely unhappy staff member who was not at all thrilled about serving us after hours. She was rude, sarcastic and intentionally unhelpful.
I started to feel anxiety. It was a work day and I had pictured being with Raymond for a couple hours but two had already passed and we hadn’t gotten our nails done yet. I asked him about it and he explained that they were closed on this particular day which only heightened my feeling of discomfort. “Then why am I here?” I asked myself, trying to hide my disappointment. “We can schedule our nails for a different day,” he said.
After lunch I told him I’d best be going. We said our goodbyes and I walked to my car, surprised and disappointed at my behavior. Well, disappointed more with my thoughts than my actual behavior. I realized that I hadn’t been completely honest with Raymond.
This was a good lesson for me. As I prayed about it and analyzed this new friendship, I realized that God had brought this precious, sweet widowed man into my life. He had certainly brightened my day and for him, I hoped I had been an empathetic ear and an encouragement. But I had allowed my friendship to be pushed to a place of discomfort in terms of the time I was investing. If you ask me what my dream day would look like it would be going on a morning hike with my boys and pondering life, then having lunch with a girlfriend. As I was spending time with Raymond I couldn’t help but think I would have rather been sipping tea with one of my friends. And then it dawned on me…he was lonely and needing a friend. And I was busy and needing a pedicure. We were a mis-match from the beginning and I had finally gotten to the bottom of my extreme discomfort.
Raymond called a few days later to let me know that he had scheduled us a pedi at his complex. I thanked him and told him that I needed to share something with him. I explained that I really enjoyed his company but it was hard for me to break away from my work days and when I wasn’t working, I was spending time with my boys. I told him I was so glad we had met but I felt like I didn’t have the time needed to invest in our friendship. He completely understood and we said our final goodbye.
I realized Raymond had come into my life to teach me this lesson: It’s okay to lead with your heart. But it’s also extremely important to balance kindness with personal limits, and that’s not always easy. I wanted to develop a deeper friendship with Raymond but figured out pretty quickly that I didn’t have the bandwidth. And that’s okay; we can love people fiercely in small doses. He gave me a little bottle of his magic ointment and I gave him a little handful of my friendship. And that’s where we left things. It was a beautiful exchange…and it was enough.
If you know someone who could benefit from this post, please share. God carved out a path of intense healing for me and I would like to share it with as many people who need or want to hear.