We arrived on time for our divine appointment — we just didn’t realize we had one.
My wife and I decided to spend a few days in St. Augustine, Florida, touring the historical sites, exploring the eclectic shops and boutiques, and sampling the local cuisine. An arts festival was in full bloom and artists were everywhere hawking their creations. A beautiful blue sky Saturday, warmed by the early May palm tree breezes, found us itching to go cruising in Matanzas Bay. The St. Augustine Municipal Marina was only a short walk from our room at the Casablanca Inn. After buying tickets for the early afternoon “scenic” cruise, we realized we had an hour before we could board.
Walking back across the Avenida Menendez Highway, we cut through a small alley and found ourselves a block away from the central shopping district. In some cities, such an error might get you mugged. However, in St. Augustine, we soon discovered, it was a shortcut to a marvelous coincidence or maybe a divine appointment?
Standing at the corner of our alley and Charlotte Street, we noticed a small art gallery called P.A.St.A. for “Professional Artists of St. Augustine.” The stained glass in the window caught our eyes, and its magnetic appeal soon drew us in. We strolled through the various artworks until my wife Patrice stopped to stare at one particular painting, one of a place that looked strangely familiar to her. By now, the other customers had walked out, and the gallery host came over to greet us.
Thus began our rendezvous with Rosa.
Maria-Rosa introduced herself as one of the professional artists whose work is displayed in this gallery. Each artist, she explained, alternates serving as the gallery host and today was her day. It so happened that Patrice had been gazing at one of her works. Born on the Mediterranean island of Menorca, Spain, many of Rosa’s landscapes are of her family farm on the island. Coincidentally, Patrice had been to Menorca, and the painting had triggered her own memories of the scenic landscapes of this little known island. Rosa lit up when she learned Patrice had been there. Smiles and laughter soon followed as they reminisced together.
Alone in the gallery with Rosa, we listened intently as she shared her story. She had left the island as a young woman to work in Italy. There she met her husband, Bud, an American Air Force Master Sargent stationed in Italy. They married, had four children, and enjoyed a beautiful fifty-seven-year marriage until “the love of her life” passed away last month.
Just a month ago?
Rosa admitted that today was, coincidentally, her first day back working. Her friends had encouraged her to get back to work, but Rosa confessed she was still struggling with the weight of grief. Her husband had supported her work as an artist, and she missed him terribly. Getting back to work, it seemed to her, meant that she needed to stop grieving.
Patrice and I made eye contact. Her non-verbal prompting was not necessary as I spoke up and shared with Rosa my own grief journey, having lost my first wife to cancer some eight years ago. I told her getting back to work was a good thing, but it was still ok to grieve. While grief is an unwanted companion, it is the normal reaction to the loss of a loved one. Her eyes reflected relief at finding an understanding soul. For the next few minutes, we listened as she poured out her heart.
The coincidences were stacking up. We had taken a wrong turn and ended up in a shop hosted by an elderly artist who was from a little known island that Patrice had visited and who was struggling with grief after losing her spouse…just as I had some eight years before.
I was beginning to realize that there is no such thing as a coincidence.
We excused ourselves to walk back to the marina to catch our scenic cruise but promised Rosa we would return to buy one of her paintings. Two hours later, we trekked back up the now familiar alley after a short detour to our car, where I coincidentally had a single copy of my book, “Walking Through the Valley of Tears.” When we entered the art gallery, Rosa’s eyes lit up. We purchased one of her paintings, titled Blue Sunset, and had her autograph it. Then I presented her a copy of my grief journal. I explained the story behind the book (see my blog post of April 14, 2018, titled “The Story behind the Book I never Wanted to Write.”)
She clutched the book against her chest and with teary eyes thanked me. Maybe it was her beautiful Spanish accent, maybe it was her countenance of grace and gratitude, or maybe it was the passionate way she said it, either way, my eyes began to mist up too. There followed a quiet moment of shared unspoken understanding. I was grateful that Patrice stepped in to give Rosa a hug and offer our prayers for her family, thus allowing me to take a deep breath and harness my emotions.
It appeared that our trip to St. Augustine had a higher purpose than shopping and touring.
We left the P.A.St.A. Gallery humbled and amazed at this surprising coincidental rendezvous with Rosa and how God redeems the pain and suffering of our past to lighten the present burdens of others.
Still, it does make me wonder if this was just a coincidence or a divine appointment?
But then, I really don’t believe in coincidences.