Come in, we’ll give you shelter from the storm

Grief can be like a thief in the night. One minute you’re sitting at a bar drinking bubbly wine, and the next minute your crying your eyes out.

At first, people looked at me as if I had said something to her to make her cry. But most realized that I had been at the other end of the bar when she had started. However, one cotton-haired matron at the table behind her never stopped giving me the evil eye.

I thought of asking the crying woman if everything was OK. You’d be surprised at what people cry about in bars: the wine, the lighting, the music. It could be a lot of things. However, the way you find out is by asking. So that is what I did. I didn’t ask if “everything” was all right, I made a much more personal inquiry.

“Are you OK?” I asked her in a way that indicated genuine curiosity, not just prurient interest.

She waved her hands in the air, as if directing oxygen toward her eyes would help.

It didn’t. Or it did. Because I soon gave her the space that she needed to get herself together. Bartenders learn quickly when to be there or not, at least good bartenders do. Nobody likes it when the bartender quickly hands you a cocktail list with at least 50 things on it and then stands there impatiently waiting for you to order. And the more complicated the menu the more impatient the bartender

I also know there are always those customers trying to force the issue, pushing and probing like a prize fighter looking for a knockout. They crave immediate attention. But you know what? No amount of huffing, puffing or guffawing is going to change anything. If experience is any kind of guide — and I suggest it is — no bartender anywhere is going to speed up because of those behaviors either.

I returned a few minutes later when her glass was emptier and her eyes slightly drier.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I just wanted to be around people.”

Ironically, a few of those people had moved away because of the earlier crying. Busy bars can be like living things. They literally pulse with life. There are sounds and sights to behold. Still, with so much going on, sometimes the individual can get lost. And there is no loneliness like the loneliness of a single person alone in a room full of people. The contrast only makes it worse.

Although sometimes it makes it better.

“May I buy you a drink?” asked the one man who had not moved away.

“I am not going to be good company,” she said, eyeing him slightly suspiciously.

“I am not looking for company. It just looked like you needed a kind gesture.”

She started to wave her hands at her face again at that.

He eventually moved away, too, not because of anything she had done or said but because life takes each of us in different directions. Sometimes people sail together for a time and sometimes they part immediately at the first crossing.

Eventually, she asked for some bread but when it came, she didn’t eat it. It sat buttered and untouched next to her full glass of water and her half glass of wine.

Eating and drinking are the backbone of living. If you don’t do both, you don’t live. That isn’t a metaphorical evaluation, it’s the simple truth. How you do it is an entirely different conversation. She wasn’t ready to have that conversation, at least not yet.

That kind stranger knew it. I knew it. And so did she. But life is getting up each day and making the effort, even when we don’t really feel like it.

Just like she was doing.

“I don’t think I am ready for this yet,” she said aloud. Even though it seemed specific, I got the impression it was more general.

“Probably not,” I replied.

“Can I get the check?” she asked.

“That man took care of it,” I said.

She seemed surprised, then wiped her eyes before fixing an errant hair while looking in the back bar mirror.

“Thank you,” she said, before dabbing at her eye makeup and heading out the door.

“We’ll be here when you are,” I said to her.

Leaving me with these thoughts

• The man hadn’t paid for her drink, but sometimes validation is more important than valuation.

• It doesn’t really matter what fuels the sadness; it only matters what we do about it when it comes.

• Sometimes the drinks are the least important thing there is.

• The squeaky wheel often gets the most grease, but sometimes it is the silent one that really needs it.