My new friend Ann tells me a joke every time I see her, and at 95, she could do standup comedy. She’s always rushing off to some adventure, including the exercise class she leads at the Senior Center. She’s perpetually upbeat, and I often wonder where all that smiling, laughter and cheer come from. Whenever I see her, I’m convinced that getting older might not be so bad after all.
Before Mass, while I was sitting in the pew, saying my prayers, she walked up behind me, handed me a paper bag and said, “This is for you.”
It was a vintage cribbage board that she and her late husband played on. She knew I collected cribbage boards and wanted me to have it.
At Christmas, she wrote me an email that said, “So, my friend, I always like to say I met five new people that I really like in 2022 and you are on the list. I hope I can replace the ones I lost during 2022 with five new friends. … Keep it simple. Ms. Ann.”
What a great goal for the new year—meeting new friends. I admit I’m not good at that. Rather than socialize, I prefer to hide in my bedroom, lock the door and sit in solitude, reading a book and listening to music.
For me, meeting new people is work. Nevertheless, Ann insists it’s something I have to do, and whenever she sees me, she interrogates me about people I’ve met who’ve brought meaning to my life.
People I’ve met? Hmmm, let me think. Well, there was the pharmacist at CVS who gave me my flu shot. Nice guy, but I won’t see him again until next year. Then, there was the young woman at Quest who drew blood for my cholesterol test. (I don’t want to see the results.) We had a great discussion about her new Apple Watch, and she explained how the last one got ruined because she wore it when she went swimming.
Then, there was the woman whose grandson was diagnosed with leukemia and the woman whose marriage was falling apart because her husband is addicted to drugs. I’ve been praying for them ever since I met them. Never underestimate the power of your prayers for a person in pain.
Despite my antisocial tendencies, I’m sure of one thing. Every day God puts people in our path we’re supposed to meet. They’re people we may not even want to meet. They’re people we meet for reasons Jesus will explain when we see him in heaven and he pulls the curtain back on our lives. They’re people who need us, they’re people we need … and they’re people we’re supposed to help, sometimes without even realizing it.
They come in all shapes, sizes, colors—and temperaments. I often think that it would be wonderful if I only met people who think I’m a nice guy, an inspiring writer, an engaging professor and a great conversationalist. Fat chance of that happening. I’ve met people who think I’m a fraud—and I’m not discounting that possibility.
I’ve met people who didn’t like me as soon as I introduced myself. I’ve met students who think I cheated them out of an A when I gave them a B, even though they deserved a C. And, sad to say, I’ve met people who are so overcome with anger that they project all their negativity on everyone else because they’re hurting inside from a painful past. Some of them are hurting because they’ve been betrayed in marriage, others are hurting because their children neglect them. And still others are angry with God because someone they loved died.
Be prepared for the people Jesus puts in your path.
If you’re committed to doing God’s will, you can be sure you’ll meet new people. Doing his will always comes with a Things to Do list, and every day he’ll tell you what you need to do. Ann was right. As much as I’d like to stay sequestered in my room, there are places to go, people to meet, as the song says.
Jesus sends them to us for a reason, so when they cross your path, keep an open mind and look beyond the exterior. You have friends you haven’t even met yet.