We started at IKEA - aka the Mecca of household goods. If you have not visited one of these stores (and I realize they are not available everywhere) you should plan a road trip or pilgrimage or something. You will have hours of happiness in this store, there is even a cafe for snacking along the way. (Side story, my SIL and I went by ourselves one time with my brother's big truck...after our success we were never allowed to go without him again, Ha!)
Our next stop after lunch was a music store. The Dean wants to learn to play the guitar, so we thought we'd have to try some different types, styles, sizes, etc. and see what felt good to her. There were about a dozen patrons in the store when we arrived and half as many clerks milling about the place. We went to the acoustic/classical guitar section and starting looking around. As we were there, commenting on assorted brands, sounds, and string types a man came in with his young son in an umbrella stroller. You know, those kind that fold small and when open really only hold the child. He was trying out guitars himself, and clearly knew how to play. He started talking with us, sharing his preferences for brand and type, (completely unsolicited), playing a few tunes to show the Dean how different sizes sounded and the like.
And then it happened, he drifted into over sharing. He talked about how he had been in the music scene, but alcohol and drugs destroyed his marriage and his job. He proudly told us he had been sober for 2 years now and his new girlfriend (and I imagine his son, who looked about 2 himself) helped him live the good clean life. Most people might have reacted uncomfortably to this revelation, but most people haven't found themselves in this moment as much as the Dean and I have over the years. You see, she comes from a 12-stepping family, so instead of awkward discomfort, she congratulated him on his success and encouraged him to keep it up no matter what. The conversation continued and got a little sidetracked into politics, which is when I started to head for the door. The man bid us farewell, wished us luck in our shopping and genuinely seemed happy to have been able to share a piece of his life with us.
Our next stop was the mall. It was heavily air conditioned (yay!) and not overly busy. We looked for tennis shoes for her, shiny things for me, wandered in and out at will. We laughed about the music store man and how we must have something on our forehead that read "therapist is in" like in the Peanuts cartoons. As we got to the last of the smaller stores, she went into one and I went into a gifty kind of place. There were no other shoppers and by brightened look on the clerk's face at seeing me, there may not have been any for some time. I was looking at the baubles when the nice lady asked me a brief question. I answered and off she went, telling me her life story. Her oldest son was in town for the weekend to introduce the new girlfriend and the woman didn't really know how to take her, Her youngest son still lived at home, although he did work a lot, she was sure to inform me. And she wasn't really supposed to be playing the music she had on in the store (I liked it), but she was the only one working that day and she was tired from her breast cancer treatments...
After sentence three, I realized I was in it for the long haul. So I just leaned against the counter, let her talk, added appropriate comments and just listened. It was clear all she wanted was someone to listen to her. I could do that, I was on vacation, I had the time (and incidentally, a master's in counseling), I could be present for that moment. As soon as the Dean walked in the store, she could tell by my posture and facial expression that this lady was the music man all over again. She browsed without interrupting and when there was a break in the conversation, gave the woman a graceful way to change the subject and move on.
I did end up buying a small shiny thing there, (because it is a weakness) and we said our goodbyes. As we headed back to the car in the heat, we again revisited the strange encounters we'd had. I hope both folks felt a little bit better by meeting us that day. I guess some days God works through you without giving you a head's up before hand!