He had just dabbed his finger on the few remaining buttery crumbs which had somehow escaped his eager mouth. The caramel shortbread and milky hot chocolate a firm favourite for our post school, Friday night, weekend starts here treat! The little deli sitting snugly in our village high street seems to offer more than just edible sustenance to us throughout the year. It's where they know our names. Where they care about how we are over the noise of the brewing coffee machine. Where they ask after family. Where I sat with friends after heartbreaking days. Where I pushed in our pram after long IVF. Where they upgrade us with cream and marshmallows on a chilly Autumn afternoon!
The only other occupied table at the end of the afternoon was an elderly gentleman on his own. A regular we know by sight, a kindly old soul, his mobility vehicle parked up beside the shop front almost daily. We had overheard his gentle chat with the staff that day and laughed at how well they knew his life. And oh how I was immediately shaken awake. Warmed by the union of client and customer. Because really it was as far from client and customer as it's possible to be. This was unexpectedly friend and friend. This was community in its rawness. This was a gentleman and friend taking care of one another. And as the lovely owner linked his arm and led him carefully through her coffee shop and out to his waiting vehicle all smiling eyes and caring arms, I unexpectedly felt somehow part of this place we live. And in a year that's seen deep sadness and crushing brutality within our tiny town it can feel like a precious gift to be in the company of endearing graciousness.
Sometimes unremarkable days can suddenly spew a lump into our throat and rouse us to witness the tiny good deeds before us, so easily missed in the rush of life.
Sometimes unremarkable days can turn before our very eyes into shrieking wake-up-and- see-the-splendid-nature-of-people days!
Because all too often the ugly parts, the horrific parts, can stick in our throats and muddy our view of a place...the way we live in it...the way we interact in it. The tragedies and mindless incidents can obliterate our ability to spy the genuine goodness grafting away behind the doors of cafes, hairdressers, solicitors, florists. Small businesses that work long days and who know us by name. These are the backbone that's strong when the body is frail. The determined champions who create conversations...community...family.
And maybe feeling part of a family of sorts is what we all secretly crave. What really we yearn for in the chaos of life.
And sometimes I wonder if family can feel like football teams or choirs. Like governors meetings or Gyms. Like church services or school runs. Like friends round our table. Like the people whose shoulders are stained from our tears. Like the ones who induce belly laughs and help us to shine. The people and places to which we belong. The people and places that sustain us, help us, nurture us, care for us. That help us live our best lives.
Family can feel like the Dance school and rehearsals and competitions and the encouragement they heap on him. Like the hours in the studio with the ones who inspire, the ones who give more than we pay. The dancers he might one day become. The role models he adores.
Belonging can sometimes feel more like family than a blood line can.
And when family are far from us or no longer here, then finding belonging in the unexpected can really mean everything.
Because it's the non-family families that can surprise and fulfil.
It's they who make our days worthwhile.
And maybe it's they we ought thank.