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“Are you from Iowa?”

After I dropped my son off at school, I was running a little late, but I decided to stop for bagels to bring to the office.I ordered a baker’s dozen. While I was waiting for them to be sliced and bagged, my phone rang. I took the call—a work call—chatted briefly and hung up. When my order was called, I gathered my bagels and turned toward the door.

That’s when I saw a man and a woman sitting together smiling at me from their table. It wasn’t just a casual, gentle smile. It was the kind of smile you give someone you’re delighted to see.

They didn’t look familiar, but maybe I knew them from church? From the grocery store? I stopped to say hello.

“Are you from Iowa?” the woman said.

That was unexpected.

“No, I’m not,” I said. “My father went to Iowa State, but I’ve never been there myself.”

“Oh, we thought we heard you talking about Iowa on the phone.”

I was sure I hadn’t mentioned Iowa, but I couldn’t walk away at that point.

Instead I fell into a delightful conversation with this couple, talking about Iowa and Maryland and how life takes people to different places. The Army had brought this man from his home in Iowa to the East Coast, so I told him how being drafted for the Vietnam War had brought my father from Minnesota to Maryland, to Aberdeen Proving Grounds, where he met my mother.

I could have chatted all day with this couple, who seemed to have all the time in the world.

In the back of my mind, I knew I had a full day of meetings that lay ahead of me. I couldn’t really afford to take this time. But I also found myself remembering the words of a priest friend at a prayer service on Ash Wednesday. He told us we should fast and pray and give alms—and he said that we should keep in mind that giving alms might mean sharing our time and ourselves.

It can be so easy to say, “I don’t have time,” and just keep moving. But being present is maybe the least—and the most—we can give on a busy day. And each day is busy in its own way.

This lovely couple and I finished our conversation. As I said goodbye, I told them how much I enjoyed meeting them, and said I hoped I would see them again. Then I headed off to work with my bagels.

As I look back on our meeting, I realize the gift of time was not mine to them, but theirs to me. They put my busy day on pause with a friendly, personal connection. They shared themselves with me—a random stranger they thought had mentioned Iowa—and reminded me how beautiful encounters with strangers can be.

Those little moments can be so beautiful and enriching, especially as we journey toward the cross. I hope this Lent is not a lonely walk, but one where you are encountering others who add a little joy to your days—and maybe add a little light to theirs, as well.