I experienced a mini-epiphany recently on my early morning walk.
Feeling gloomy, I had my eyes riveted on the sidewalk. I ignored the azure sky, the puffy clouds above me and the fresh breeze coming off the Catalina Channel as I relived my most recent malfunctions and misadventures for the umpteenth time in my brain.
Walking my usual route along Newport Boulevard, hugging the Orange County Fairgrounds perimeter, I noticed a gentleman ambling toward me some 75 to 100 yards distant. Lugging a large satchel on his back, he looked like he might be homeless.
I reflexively looked down.
As we drew to within a few paces of one another, I looked up again. I was prepared to tender a perfunctory head-nod and move on without an audible greeting or eye contact. But he wouldn't have it.
"Good morning, sir," he bellowed in stentorian Old Globe tones, and with a broad smile. "What a beautiful day!"
Startled, I was roused from my stupor.
"Why … so it is," I sputtered, sounding like some Charles Dickens character.
We walked past one another and continued our separate ways.
I shook my head and tried to stifle a smile. I couldn't. How unusual for a stranger to be so friendly and animated, I thought, especially while I was so absorbed in life's petty distractions.
I took no more than a dozen steps when I saw a large billboard on the fairgrounds property (it's since been replaced by a new advert), promoting the USC Norris Cancer Hospital. Emblazoned across the billboard was a simple one-line message that screamed at me from 40 feet up: "YOU ARE NOT ALONE."
Those words were not lost on this curmudgeon. Funny, but just moments earlier I'd kind of felt like I was.
The ad obviously pertained to the incredible resources, expertise and skills available to patients in Norris' offices, labs and operating rooms. But there was something more. Many of life's messages, I've learned, are open to multiple interpretations — with double, triple and even quadruple entendres.
I chuckled. The juxtaposition of the homeless gentleman and the marketing phrase, I was certain, had special meaning for me. It was a text message, if you will, from the farthest reaches of the cosmos. The Creator had ambushed me. He'd pulled me out of my bad humor by giving me a communication of hope: "It's a beautiful day, and you are loved. Now stop your bellyaching!"
Was that "homeless guy" something more than just a stranger, I wondered? I've walked the route hundreds of times over the past two years and have never seen him before or since.
I believe in angels, though the question of this particular guy's DNA isn't the most pressing issue of my life at the moment. I'm not the type to claim that an angel once sat beside me on a bus, or bought me lunch when I was broke.
I took contemplative strides forward on my walk as the full weight of "YOU ARE NOT ALONE" resonated in my consciousness. Then, on impulse, I turned to see if "Mr. Sunshine" was still behind me, receding into the distance.
The sidewalk was empty.
Perhaps he'd turned down Arlington Avenue, though it would have required a sprint of near-Usain Bolt proportions for him to reach the intersection before my turning.
My "takeaway" from this experience — no matter if the fellow was from Pasadena or Paradise — is that God has messages for us all if we just pay attention.
He probably breaks in on a wretch like me multiple times daily — but I'm too preoccupied or annoyed or unplugged to notice. I turn a deaf ear. This time, however, the communication got through loud and clear.