當諾拉遇見丹先生

四歲小女孩和鰥居老翁超市巧遇,即刻結下不解之緣 Tara Wood◎撰 From today.com

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Courtesy Tara Wood

女兒諾拉四歲生日前夕說的一段話,預示了即將發生的非凡事件。

我剛從托兒所把她接出來,她要我留意一位正穿越停車場的老人;他的腳步慢得像冰河的速度。

跟着她解釋說她喜歡年紀大的人:「我最喜歡老人了,因為他們走路慢慢的,跟我走路一樣慢慢的;還有他們皮膚軟軟的,跟我皮膚一樣軟軟的。他們很快都會全部死掉,所以我要在他們死掉前愛他們全部。」

的確,這話的結尾有點陰鬱,但我喜歡她的善良。

我被她的體貼和同理心打動,回家後把她的話更新貼到了臉書動態上。當時我不清楚她對這話到底有多認真。

隔天(她的生日),又是從學校返家的路上,她問我能不能在超市停一下,買幾個杯子蛋糕給她和六個兄弟姊妹在晚餐後吃。

你怎麼能對壽星說不?

我把諾拉和她妹妹放進汽車造型的購物車裏,朝烘焙區前進。拿了杯子蛋糕後,有個出清商品的貨架吸引了我的目光,我停下腳步。就在我分神之際, 諾拉忙着從推車裏站起,興奮地揮手並興高采烈地宣佈:「嗨,老人!我今天生至!」

那男人老態龍鍾,面無表情,皺着眉。然而,在我還來不及發出噓聲制止她喊他老人,或自己找個地洞鑽進去之前,他停下了腳步,轉過身來面對她。

不知他是否為這口沒遮攔的孩子感到困擾,就算有,也沒顯露出來。他的表情轉趨溫和,答說:「唔,哈囉,小朋友!你今天幾歲了?」

他們聊了幾分鐘,他祝她生日快樂。然後我們便分道揚鑣。

幾分鐘後,她轉身問我:「我可以跟那老人拍一張照慶祝我生至嗎?」這是我聽過最可愛的要求了。雖然我不確定他是否會答應,但我還是跟她說,我們當然可以問問看。

我們在幾條走道外找到了那位老人,我走上前去。「先生,不好意思,這是我女兒諾拉,她想請問你願不願意和她一起拍照,慶祝她的生日。」

他的表情從困惑轉為驚訝,再轉為欣喜。

他後退一步,用購物車穩住身體,然後把空出來的手放在胸前。「拍照?跟我嗎?」他問道。

「對啊,就是啊,慶祝我的生至!」諾拉懇求道。

他答應了。我拿出我的iPhone,他們倆站在一起擺姿勢。她把她軟軟的手放在他軟軟的手上。他一言不發,閃閃發光的眼睛凝視着她,任由她握着他的手,研究他細小的血管和飽經風霜的指關節。她親吻他的手背,接着把他的手貼上她的臉頰。他臉上堆滿笑容。我請教他大名,他要我們叫他丹。

我們擋住了其他顧客,但他們並不在意。當天超市裏有股神奇的力量,在場所有的人都感受到了。諾拉和「丹先生」當然沒留意到,他們像好久不見的老朋友一樣聊開了。

幾分鐘後,我謝謝丹先生花時間陪我們。他眼裏噙着淚說:「不對,我才要謝謝你們。今天是好長一段時間以來我最美好的一天。」他轉身對我女兒說:「諾拉小姐,你讓我非常開心。」

他們相互擁抱,接着我們離去。諾拉一直注視着他,直到他步出視線之外。

若說我沒有從他們遇上之後就淚眼汪汪,我是在說謊。

我為這場邂逅而深受感動,心想或許會有看我臉書的人樂於聽聞。我貼了這段經歷,並上傳一老一小的合照。

當晚就有當地讀者私下傳訊給我說認識丹先生。

丹先生的妻子瑪麗六個月前過世,自從老伴走後,他就變成孤家寡人。這位讀者告訴我,她相信丹先生內心一定被我女兒感動了,他需要這樣的人際聯繫,而且可能永遠難忘。

我向她要了丹先生的電話號碼。幾天後撥電話過去。

我們造訪丹先生舒適整潔的家,教人想起瑪麗的物品依舊堂皇滿室。他剪了頭髮、刮了鬍子,穿着西裝褲和搭配禮服的皮鞋,看起來年輕了十歲。他為諾拉擺設了兒童桌、白紙和蠟筆,問她能不能為他畫幾張圖,好讓他貼在冰箱上。她高興地答應了,馬上動手畫起來。

那天,我們在丹先生家待了將近三個鐘頭,面對我那愛說話又動個不停的女兒,他很有耐心,也很親切。他幫她擦掉臉上的番茄醬,還讓她吃掉他的雞塊。

午餐後,我們和他一起走向他家大門。他拿出一把摺疊小刀,切下門廊邊唯一一朵盛開的紅玫瑰,然後花了十分鐘去除莖上的每一根刺,這才把花遞給他的新朋友。那朵玫瑰如今已完全乾枯。諾拉把花裝在拉鍊袋裏,放在枕頭底下。

諾拉每天都會問起丹先生。她為他操心,擔憂他會不會寂寞、會不會冷,有沒有乳酪可以夾三明治。她希望他過得好好的,希望他感覺有人愛。

丹先生也思念諾拉。最近一次去看他之後,他提到自從老伴離世,自己就沒睡過一天好覺。他告訴我自從遇見女兒後,他每晚都睡得很香。他說:「諾拉治好了我。」

我聽了為之語塞,淚濕雙頰。

這兩人年齡相差七十八歲,可是不知怎的,他們的心和靈魂似乎很早以前就彼此相識了。

我對諾拉承諾每週去探望丹先生;儘管那只有十五分鐘,儘管那只是匆匆一個擁抱和送上一塊丹麥乳酪麵包(他的最愛!)

我邀請他和我們一起過感恩節。如今他成了我們家的一員,不論他願意與否,他已經被我的九口之家拉了進來。而且誠如諾拉所言,我們會一直愛他到最後。


When Norah Met Mr. Dan

The day before my daughter Norah’s fourth birthday, something she said foreshadowed a remarkable event.

I’d just picked her up from preschool when she cautioned me to mind the elderly person walking across the parking lot at a glacier’s pace.

She went on to explain that she has a soft spot for mature folks: “I like old peoples the best ’cause they walk slow like I walk slow and they has soft skin like I has soft skin. They all gonna die soon, so I’m gonna love ’em all up before they is died.”

Sure, it got kinda dark at the end, but I liked where her heart was.

I was struck by her thoughtfulness and empathy and posted that quote as a status update on Facebook when we got home. I had no idea how much she really meant it.

The following day—her birthday—again on the way home from school, she asked if we could stop at the grocery store to buy cupcakes for her and her six siblings to enjoy after dinner.

How do you say no to a birthday girl?

I popped Norah and her younger sister into one of those car-shaped grocery carts and headed toward the bakery. After we picked up the cupcakes, I stopped at a clearance shelf that caught my eye. While I was distracted, Norah was busy standing up in the cart, excitedly waving and gleefully proclaiming, “Hi, old person! It’s my birfday today!”

The man was elderly, stone-faced, and furrow-browed. However, before I could shush her for calling him an old person or ask the earth to swallow me whole, he stopped and turned to her.

If he was troubled by my no-filter child, he didn’t show it. His expression softened as he replied, “Well, hello, little lady! And how old are you today?”

They chatted for a few minutes, he wished her a happy birthday, and we went our separate ways.

A few minutes later, she turned to me and asked, “Can I take a picture with the old man for my birfday?” It was the cutest thing ever, and although I wasn’t sure if he’d oblige, I told her we’d certainly ask.

We found the man a couple of aisles over, and I approached him. “Excuse me, sir? This is Norah, and she’d like to know if you’d take a photo with her for her birthday.”

His expression morphed from confused to stunned to delighted.

He took a step back, steadied himself on his shopping cart, and placed his free hand on his chest. “A photo? With me?” he asked.

“Yes, suh, for my birfday!” Norah pleaded.

And so he did. I pulled out my iPhone, and they posed together. She placed her soft hand on top of his soft hand. He wordlessly stared at her with twinkling eyes as she kept his hand in hers and studied his skinny veins and weathered ­knuckles. She kissed the top of his hand and then placed it on her cheek. He beamed. I asked his name, and he told us to call him Dan.

We were blocking other shoppers, but they didn’t care. There was magic happening in the grocery store that day, and we could all feel it. Norah and “Mr. Dan” sure didn’t notice. They were chatting away like long-lost friends.

After a few minutes, I thanked Mr. Dan for spending a bit of his day with us. He teared up and said, “No, thank you. This has been the best day I’ve had in a long time.” He turned to my daughter. “You’ve made me so happy, Miss Norah.”

They hugged, and we walked away. Norah watched him until he was out of view.

I’d be lying to you if I said I wasn’t a weepy mess after their encounter.

I was blown away by this meeting and thought maybe some of the
readers of my Facebook page might enjoy hearing about it. I posted the story and a photo of the two of them.

Later that night, I received a private message from a local reader who recognized Mr. Dan.

His wife, Mary, had passed away six months earlier, and he had been lonely since his beloved had gone. The reader wanted to let me know that she was certain his heart was touched by my little girl, that he needed that connection and likely would never forget it.

I asked for Mr. Dan’s phone number and called him a few days later.

We visited Mr. Dan’s cozy and tidy house—­reminders of Mary still proudly displayed every­where. He had gotten a haircut, shaved, and put on slacks and dress shoes. He looked ten years younger. He’d set out a child’s table, blank paper, and crayons for Norah. He asked if she’d draw some pictures for him to display on his refrigerator. She happily agreed and went right to work.

We ended up spending nearly three hours with Mr. Dan that day. He was patient and kind with my talkative, constantly moving girl. He wiped ketchup off her cheek and let her ­finish his chicken nuggets.

We walked with him to his front door after lunch. He pulled out a pocketknife and cut the single red rose blooming by his porch. He spent ten minutes cutting every thorn off the stem before handing it to his new friend. She keeps that rose, now dry as a bone, in a ziplock bag under her pillow.

Norah asks about Mr. Dan every day. She worries about him. She wonders if he’s lonely, or cold, or has cheese for his sandwiches. She wants him to be OK. She wants him to feel loved.

Mr. Dan thinks about Norah too. After another recent visit, he relayed that he hadn’t had an uninterrupted night’s sleep since his wife died. He told me that he had slept soundly every night since meeting my girl. “Norah has healed me,” he said.

That left me speechless and my cheeks wet with tears.

Seventy-eight years separate these two people in age. Somehow, their hearts and souls seem to recognize each other from long ago.

Norah and I have made a promise to see Mr. Dan every week, even if it’s for only 15 minutes, even if only for a quick hug and to drop off a cheese Danish (his favorite!).

I invited him to spend Thanksgiving with us. He’s part of our family now. Whether he likes it or not, he has been absorbed into my family of nine, and just as Norah said, we’re gonna love him all up.

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