Sharing a Moment with a Stranger on Vacation

Westminster Abbey - image by Christine Matthews under CC BY-SA 2.0

Entering Westminster Abbey on vacation with my 10-year-old son, I overheard a man with an American accent ask, “Can we take photos?”

“No, sorry, sir,” the docent apologized.

I remembered being disappointed my last visit when I realized no photos were allowed.

The man wore an Ohio State T-shirt and khaki shorts. With sunglasses perched on top of his head, he looked like someone I knew. He looked so dejected, I felt the need to say something as I passed by.

“They have postcards in the gift shop,” I said, smiling as if that solved everything. “They were better than any shots I could get.” Sometimes we just want to say something, even if we know it won’t really help.

“Oh, I know,” he replied, looking as if he were going to cry. “I just don’t want to forget it.”

There is a sacredness at Westminster Abbey that I didn’t expect the first time I visited on a solo trip, two years ago. I thought of it as a tourist stop, not the place of worship that it is.

“You won’t forget it,” I told Ohio State. “You’ll be more present since you aren’t behind your camera.”

He nodded in agreement, but I didn’t think he believed me. With his emotion so much on the surface, I felt there was more to this than just a casual interaction.

I’d returned to Westminster Abbey to share this sacred place with my son. Last time I visited, it wasn’t until I prayed with a priest there that I realized it had been a pilgrimage. I wanted my son to experience the place where I had felt so close to God.

I ran into Ohio State again near the shrine of St. Edward the Confessor, where I had prayed with a small group of believers from all over the world. The shrine is located behind the altar where each monarch since 1066 has been coronated. After a coronation, the monarch slips behind the altar through a secret door for private prayers for wisdom and guidance.

I asked Ohio State if he was religious.

“Well, not really. I mean I don’t not believe. I’m just not certain what I believe,” he said.

“I understand,” I said and told him about the noon prayers. “I think if you had an experience like I did, you wouldn’t forget it.”

“My mother just died three months ago.” The tears from earlier were now clear. “Towards the end, she’d forgotten so much.” I wanted to grab onto him for a moment, in gratitude for confiding in me, a stranger.

“I am so sorry.” I wanted to say more, but what, I didn’t know. I felt God’s presence there, and I knew I was supposed to have said the things I did to this fellow traveler. He nodded. Embarrassed, he looked to rejoin his family.

Sharing noon prayers with my son, I said a prayer for Ohio State, for his grief, for his healing, for his family.

Three hours later, two miles away, in a city of eight million, I held a door open for my son when Ohio State walked through. “I just talked to you this morning. At Westminster Abbey,” he said, looking at me as though he’d seen a ghost.

I don’t know why God brought us together for a moment, but I know God did.

Image by Christine Matthews under CC BY-SA 2.0.

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Shemaiah Gonzalez
Shemaiah Gonzalez is a freelance writer who holds a B.A. in English Literature and a M.A. in Intercultural Ministry. She thrives on moments where storytelling, art, and faith collide. Published on Busted Halo and America Magazine among others, she is obsessed with being well-rounded as she jumps from Victorian lit to Kendrick Lamar, from the homeless shelter to the cocktail party. A Los Angeles native, she now lives in Seattle with her husband and their two sons.

4 COMMENTS

  1. Absolutely love this story you shared. God places each of us in the places we need to be at just the right time. We just need to be ready for it and open to it. Thank you Shemaiah. And I didn’t even mind that he was “Ohio State” since I’m a Michigan fan.

  2. Beautiful! Coincidence? Nop! No way. God works through us, only we don’t see it as life is fast moving and no one cares to stop a moment.

  3. I love how our God works! I can’t wait for your follow up comment when Ohio State shows up at the library when you’re checking out a book! LOL

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