“I’m from Germany,” she said with a smile.
“I was seventeen when I got married and I went to visit the United States shortly after that."
The complexion on her face suddenly changed and her smile disappeared. "When I returned home a year later my husband went off to the Korean War.”
There was a pause and she seemed to hesitate with the next few words.
“He never came back.”
“I was a widow at eighteen… so young…” Her voice drifted off into the distance and I could see in her eyes that she was reliving a life that seemed so distant and so far away.
Rosie was in her mid-70s but her beautiful blue eyes and lively attitude made her seem twenty years younger. She sat alone during her lunch break, quietly staring out the window watching people come and go from the store where she worked.
I had been using the cafe in the store as my makeshift office and after making eye contact and exchanging smiles several times, we began striking up random conversations.
Spontaneously sharing deep thoughts about life and the lessons it teaches us, our conversations seemed like an odd interaction between two strangers who were separated by nearly forty years of life experience.
A few days later I went to my sisters' house to hang out with my brother-in-law and my one-year-old nephew. When night fell, we started a campfire in the backyard and brought my nephew out to see it.
In the darkness his face glowed orange and he smiled so big that his tiny teeth shown through. As if witnessing a never ending stream of magic, he looked up at his dad and pointed at the fire in awe.
I've sat around perhaps hundreds of campfires in my lifetime, but my nephew was experiencing one for the first time.
Over the course of his life, how many campfires will he sit around? Since the dawn of mankind, how many times has this process repeated itself?
Listening to Rosie tell her wartime stories had made me realize how much had occurred before I was even born. Now I was looking at my nephew and realizing the exact same thing, only this time I was the older one.
It’s easy to forget that our entire bodily existence is an infinitesimal moment in time, a single raindrop in the sea of eternity. We subconsciously focus on our little slice because it's so much easier to digest. It solidifies the reality around us and makes us feel in control.
But it's important to remember that many others have come before us and that may others will come after us. This greater perspective allows us to see what's real. It allows us to be aware of the precious time we have left and appreciate the things that are really important.
No matter how difficult our situation or how many challenges we may face, there's no point in wasting time soaking ourselves in depression. We all struggle and experience loss, but it's our attitude that determines how we live, not our circumstances.
Watching my nephew stare at that fire, I remembered Rosie's attitude and the important thoughts she left with me.
As if sensing the empathy I felt towards her story, she said in an insistent tone "But life is good!"
“My father-in-law, who I’ve seen perhaps only twice since the war, reconnected with me a few weeks ago. We talked for hours. For so many years we didn’t know each other and now we have so much in common and so many stories to share.”
Her beautiful smile returned. “It’s the circle of life. Everything changes, turns, and loops back around again."