Awaiting my return flight to Sacramento at Orange County Airport in Southern California, I decided to eat at the Oasis Grill and Sky Lounge. My waiter was a man named Ali. I sat longer than normal, and as I prepared to leave Ali and I began to communicate.
“I have 3 hours until my flight departs,” I told him.
“I’m sure that passes the time,” he replied. As he made a hand gesture toward my laptop.
He asked where I was headed and where I was from, then let me know he is also a Northern California native. At one time he owned an Italian Restaurant, which he’d sold at his wife’s urging in order to move closer to their daughter who is a college student.
Then his eyes began to tear up as he told me that he’d lost his wife to cancer barely a week ago. I was surprised he was working, serving food to me as I awaited my flight.
“I have to keep my mind occupied. I want to stay away from home as much as I can. The house now has no soul,” he explained in his thick accent.
A few moments later and we were discussing God. Ali and his late wife are of Muslim faith. Muslim’s serve the God of Abraham , which happens to be the same God those of Christian faith serve as well, even though Muslim’s call him “Allah” (edit to add: read the comments to this article, as this sentence has prompted a bit of discussion). During a conversation about the departure of Ali’s wife of many many years, it was not the time to discuss theological differences.
“Can I share something with you?” I asked.
When he agreed I passed along some very simple, yet profound information I’d received from Wendy when I was in extreme emotional pain.
“Don’t be afraid of the grief, Ali. It is a beautiful part of human healing. Don’t let anyone tell you how you should or shouldn’t feel about the loss of someone you loved so deeply. Let the pain last as long as it needs to last, but don’t be afraid of it. Simply thinking of the fact that emotional pain is nothing to fear… well that really changed my perspective when I was hurting. I hope it does the same for you. Pain like this is beautifully human. You loved her.”
A visible change occurred in Ali’s face. He smiled a warm, genuine smile and took my hand in a firm-grip handshake. My eyes were now glistening with moisture just as his were. I have never lost a spouse to cancer, but I felt like I really loved this man who recently had.
And so does the God I serve.
“Thank you for those beautiful words, my friend,” he told me. And his eyes followed me until I disappeared around the corner, leaving the restaurant. I know, because I looked back at him as well.
There was no need to tell Ali that I’d be praying for him. I’m just going to do so. I spoke with him for a brief instant, but the human emotions he is experiencing are something each of us feel at times, and I felt a very strong empathy and love for that hurting soul.
My God, please comfort my new friend.