The other day, I was at my local neighborhood pharmacy picking up some scripts. While I was there, I stopped at my favorite gift shop, which is part of the pharmacy. I was purchasing a few little gifts for my three darling grandkids for Chanukah. Standing at the counter was an elderly lady who immediately drew my attention. Within a somewhat fragile physique, she exuded light and strength. I smiled to her while noticing her shock of white hair, clear blue eyes and gentle smile, and then I said hello.

She smiled back and with a quiet, shaky voice asked, “What’s your name?”

I replied, “Seena. What’s yours?”

Her answer was engaging,An elderly lady immediately drew my attention “Ooh, what a lovely name. I never heard that before. My name is Rose.”

My immediate thought was that I am not acquainted with anyone named Rose and then recalled that before my older sister was born, my parents thought about naming her Rose. They ended up choosing a different name.

My new acquaintance was trying to rummage through her pocketbook and wasn’t having an easy time. She asked me, “Would you mind helping me look for something in my bag? It’s so heavy, and I can never find anything.”

She was melting my heart. “Of course, I’ll help you. What are you looking for?”

She replied, “I need to find my telephone book so I can call a taxi.” I asked her where she was going, and Rose responded with the “Simpson House,” where she lived.

I felt a warm connection to her and said, “I know Simpson House. I pass right by there often. I’d be happy to drive you home.”

Rose revealed her sense of humor, saying, “You trust me?”

I chuckled and said, “What could you have possibly done in your lifetime that I would not trust you?”

She laughed and said, “Are you sure? It’s rush hour.”

I replied: “I am as sure as I can be. Let’s go.”

We walked out to my car and opened the door for her, and with a kind of independence she said, “I’m OK getting in but I could use some help with the seatbelt.”

I was moved, reminded of all the times I assisted my mom into my various cars and always helped her with maneuvering the seatbelt.

Once we were driving, there was no silence shared, only mutual comfort and conversation, continuous smiles, the joy of meaningful connection and gratitude. The first thing Rose said was, “Do you know that in all my years, and I’ve had many of those, nobody ever offered to give me a ride? I feel truly blessed to know you.”

How can I explain what I was feeling other than saying that a chill ran through my spine, my throat got a little tight, and my eyes began to fill with water. I looked at her for a moment and said, “The feelings are mutual, Rose. I feel truly blessed to know you as well.”

From this point on—for the next 10 minutes—Rose did most of the talking, telling me all about her children, where they live, what they do, where the grandkids attend college and high school, and how quickly they’ve all grown up. Intermittently, I injected only brief but affirming words. My sense of things was that she was so eager to speak, so it was truly an opportunity for me to be eager to listen.

We arrived at the place she called home, and she reached for the seatbelt. I got out of the car to meet her on the passenger’s side and to open her door. Again, she said, “I can get out OK,” and I respected her gift of life and independence. She and I were standing there, and she reached her hands out and I took her hands in mine.

Rose said: “You are a truly kind person and a blessing to know.” I felt the open invitation to give her a gentle but firm hug. Her parting words were “I hope I see you again,” and mine were “I would like that,” coupled with a wave as we both walked away.

In today’s world, more and more people are paying closer attention to their electronic devices than to the people who surround them. What happens is that there are countless missed opportunities for real human connection, for heart-to-heart encounters, for seeing people’s expressions on their faces or even for holding hands. The value of human touch is being lost, and this is truly tragic.

Another heartbreaking epidemic is that elderly people are often looked at asThe value of human touch is being lost, and this is truly tragic dispensable, when, in fact, they hold the most wisdom and can teach us things we are incapable of knowing, purely by virtue of their years of life and lessons learned along the way. This is anything but superfluous. This woman taught me that in a world that can feel lonely, she is full of gratitude. She had a truly tender heart. When she spoke about her children and grandchildren, she sounded like the luckiest person alive. Her face was shining. When she spoke about her apartment at Simpson House, she was full of joy that she has a community and a good meal three times a day. I was humbled. She doesn’t take for granted the things we might ... that she can walk, get in and out of a car, that she can call a taxi and go out to shop for holiday gifts.

Why do people come into our lives the way they do? The Baal Shem Tov teaches that every encounter can teach us something in our spiritual service. I believe we need to see or hear something that they will show us and that we need to know. We need to see that healthy human life is precious in all of its forms. We need to see that an elderly person’s limitations might one day be our own.

It represents an opportunity to reflect on what dignity means, and how we can exemplify that we really respect life, even when it’s shaky and has many needs that require support from others—physically, socially, emotionally. Without a doubt, this experience showed me that a stranger can touch and alter our sense of self, and our appreciation and sensitivity for life.