It was a Friday night at the end of an exhausting week. My toddler son was sick all week, so instead of taking my kids to the pool every day and soaking up the last of summer like I’d planned, we’d been stuck around home. My husband had been gone every day for work and every night for church responsibilities. That night he was at Scout camp.
I was tired. My kids were tired. We all needed a distraction. So I rounded up the kids to walk to a nearby gas station and rent a Redbox movie. Leaving the house took some work — locating bike helmets, tracking down shoes, wrangling my youngest into the stroller. Everything felt like a chore.
At the Redbox kiosk, we perused our options. My kids were trying to decide between “Penguins of Madagascar: Operation Search and Rescue” and “The Smurfs 2.” An older gentleman stood at an adjacent kiosk while I read a movie description aloud:
“The evil wizard Gargamel creates a couple of mischievous Smurf-like creatures called the Naughties that he hopes will let him harness the all-powerful, magical Smurf-essence,” I began.
As I continued to read, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a wide smile appear on the face of the man next to us. After finishing the description, I turned to the kids — and our onlooker — and commented: “Sounds riveting.”
The older man chimed in: “Yes, it does.”
We laughed together then he quickly turned somber. “Oh, it makes me miss my grandkids.” He paused and added: “My daughter and her children died in a car accident last year. I miss them so much.”
Behind my sunglasses, tears welled up in my eyes. I choked out a condolence while waiting for the movie to dispense. The old man thanked me for sharing my kids for a moment with him, hopped in his truck and drove away.
I walked home with a bit more pep in my step. My petty complaints about the week seemed trivial, and the thought of spending yet another night alone with the kids no longer seemed like a big deal. I felt sadness for this stranger but gratitude for the reminder that life is special and frail and unpredictable.
I spent a day recently combing through old photos and videos while making a 10th anniversary present for my husband. Photos of my kids when they were babies made me teary, but the videos had me sobbing (like a baby, I might add). The tiny voices, indecipherable chatter and high-pitched singing reminded me that they were once so little. My kids still have plenty of growing up to do, and I know that one day — on our 20th anniversary, maybe — I’ll look back and think they were babies now, too.
The old clichés are true. This too shall pass. Kids grow up so fast. You’re only young once. Life is short.
Next time you find yourself at a Redbox kiosk, deciding which of two lame movies you want to rent, think of my stranger who lost his family in an instant. Then go home and hold yours tight because you can.