A familiar stranger


So how do you thank the person who saved your life? Guess if you were a singer you’d sing a song about them. I’m not a singer.

If you were well off, you’d reward them with money and shower them with gifts. I’m far from being well off. I’m just a simple writer.

Guess the best way to thank the person who saved my life is simply to write a story about them. So for the familiar stranger who I met walking the other day, this story is about you and what happened so long ago.

On most morning walks, I look at the ground just in front of me. It’s not that I’m shy, mind you. Just don’t want to trip, fall, and break something else.

But halfway through this morning’s walk, I felt like taking a risk. So I straightened my shoulders, took a deep breath and looked down the road. That’s when I saw a familiar stranger walking directly towards me with what seemed to me to be a singular purpose in mind.

To be honest, what came next was an exchange I never thought I’d be a part of, much less initiate. After all, I’m not a spring chicken anymore. Long past are the days of being approached by a beautiful lady, much less harmlessly flirting with one. Or so I thought.

The young lady was also out on a morning walk, and when she passed I noticed the morning sun glinting off the ring on her finger. I quipped, “Your husband is a very lucky man to be married to someone like you.”

She slowed as she walked past me. As she did, her eyes crinkled at the edges with her reply tossed over a bare shoulder, “Yes, he is.”

Now a stronger man would have let her go and continued with his walk. But I’ve never really admitted to being strong when it comes to affairs of the heart. Not really knowing where the path was leading, I turned and followed.

For the next 10 minutes, we walked together. Talking a lot about nothing and yet everything. It was as if we had known each other for years but still had only just met. I asked if I would see her again. As one would do to an old friend, she gave me a friendly punch in the arm, “Now you’re just being silly. Of course you will.”

A cool morning breeze blew long brown hair across her face, obscuring it but for a moment before being brushed away by a dainty hand with the most perfect of fingers I’d ever seen.

Nodding in the direction she had come, “I just live around the corner, the house in the cul-de-sac. Come visit me anytime. I’m sure my husband wouldn’t mind. He said he wouldn’t be home for awhile.”

Tucking her chin, she flashed a disarming smile that would’ve felled a weaker man. She turned and slowly walked away. Leaving me with a decision to make — continue on with my walk to a known end or follow the young lady to an ending that was anything but known.

I decided to follow, taking a leap of faith, like I did so many years ago.

At the base of a waterfall in Tennessee, I fell to one knee and asked a question – a question the familiar stranger would’ve heard if not for the roar of the falling waters.

To be honest, I never really heard her answer, but I guess actions actually do speak louder than words because she pulled me back to my feet and gave me a lingering kiss. She’s been pulling me up ever since.

It’s been 16 years ago today that The Wife and I married. I followed her down a path that day, and she saved my life.

And on that day, as we walked out of church, the world tilted just a little.

[Rick Ryckeley, who lives in Senoia, served as a firefighter for more than two decades and has been a weekly columnist since 2001. His email is storiesbyrick@gmail.com. His books are available at www.RickRyckeley.com.]