I reflexively looked down.
As we drew to within a few paces of one another, I looked up again. I was prepared to tender a perfunctory head-nod and move on without an audible greeting or eye contact. But he wouldn't have it.
"Good morning, sir," he bellowed in stentorian Old Globe tones, and with a broad smile. "What a beautiful day!"
Startled, I was roused from my stupor.
"Why … so it is," I sputtered, sounding like some Charles Dickens character.
We walked past one another and continued our separate ways.
I shook my head and tried to stifle a smile. I couldn't. How unusual for a stranger to be so friendly and animated, I thought, especially while I was so absorbed in life's petty distractions.
I took no more than a dozen steps when I saw a large billboard on the fairgrounds property (it's since been replaced by a new advert), promoting the USC Norris Cancer Hospital. Emblazoned across the billboard was a simple one-line message that screamed at me from 40 feet up: "YOU ARE NOT ALONE."
Those words were not lost on this curmudgeon. Funny, but just moments earlier I'd kind of felt like I was.
The ad obviously pertained to the incredible resources, expertise and skills available to patients in Norris' offices, labs and operating rooms. But there was something more. Many of life's messages, I've learned, are open to multiple interpretations — with double, triple and even quadruple entendres.
I chuckled. The juxtaposition of the homeless gentleman and the marketing phrase, I was certain, had special meaning for me. It was a text message, if you will, from the farthest reaches of the cosmos. The Creator had ambushed me. He'd pulled me out of my bad humor by giving me a communication of hope: "It's a beautiful day, and you are loved. Now stop your bellyaching!"