I sat waiting my turn to be seen by the doctor. The worn magazines lay strewn on the coffee table, all too familiar and uninviting. Ed and I were the only couple there with the exception of a pair who seemed to pique my curiosity. Each time I glanced around the room, letting my thoughts wander, I would return to them and wonder why. As the minutes ticked by, I began to realize that their body language was telling me they were different. One could draw a circle around them and see that they were a world unto themselves, leaning into each other, holding hands, eyes downcast, and extremely uncomfortable being there. It wasn't the kind of discomfort born of having had to wait too long, or concern about a possible bad diagnosis. These two were supremely defensive and, if I had not been in such a safe, ordinary place, I could have sworn they were afraid.

He was speaking to her in Yiddish, the language of my childhoodFor a fleeting moment, I chanced to see her glance meet mine, and, as is my nature, I smiled. Her husband sensed her reaction and when she drew back quickly, he patted her hand in a reassuring manner. I heard his hoarse whisper which startled me – he was speaking to her in Yiddish, the language of my childhood, growing up in my grandparents' home. I had not heard it for, literally, decades. It is amazing to me how that small commonality made me bold, made me disregard their obvious withdrawal from contact. It was one of those things which resist explanation, but I wanted them to know I was a kindred soul. And I smiled once again.

Ed and I were seated together; he was engrossed in an ancient golf magazine and oblivious to the silent drama taking place. My seat was only one space away from the man and woman who were about to change my world or, I should say, change my perspective about my world. We can go through life sincerely believing that we understand our fellow men and the powerful events affecting them. We can read volumes about current events, listen to the media on a daily basis, feel for those whose existence is frightening beyond belief, but we are protected by distance and the great, good fortune of having been born into a free society. We can put our children and ourselves to bed at night, shocked with what we think we know, but safe and warm. I knew little, as I was about to discover.

I spoke to him. "Have you been waiting long?" I received a tentative but friendly reply in accented English. "You're Jewish?" he asked, and I nodded. His wife seemed to edge closer to him, listening as we began a conversation in a mix of his Yiddish and my English. I explained to him that my grandparents had spoken Yiddish almost exclusively at home. As the casual information was exhausted, I told him about my daughter, whose sixteenth birthday gift had been a six-week trip to Israel with a group of teenagers. They had toured the country, participated in a tree planting where she planted a tree in honor of my deceased father, to a stop at the Wailing Wall, where she inserted a note I had sent with her, to the Holocaust Museum, and countless other places which spoke of its history. His attention to what I was saying was as intense as a laser beam.

I stammered, looking for words that would not comeAll at once, he released his wife's hand, tapped my wrist as though to say, look, and pulled back his jacket sleeve just enough to show me that tattooed on his veiny, wrinkled skin were the numbers almost every living Jew recognizes as being those of a concentration camp prisoner.

It seemed I was having a dream. The nearness of those numbers and what they told me about this frail man, the wonder of his survival, made me want to recoil and put it all away at the distance I was used to. I stammered, looking for words that would not come, and before I could exhale, he showed me the tattoo on his wife's small wrist as well.

The ticking of the clock seemed slower and louder, and we sat together that way long enough for him to decide I was someone he would talk with – someone to whom he would tell his story, in some very graphic detail. He was not asking me to comment in any way, but from time to time, he would look at me to know I was listening hard. They had met in a concentration camp toward the end of the war, an unlikely meeting when both were close to death from dehydration and starvation. He had had a teenaged nephew with him, but one day they became separated and never saw each other again. He was later to find out the boy was recruited for a work detail, and had been beaten fatally when he became too ill to work.

"You know all this?" he asked. I shook my head. How could anyone know all this? I finally asked why he wanted to talk about it, that it was beyond horrible, that I didn't know what to say. Covering his wrist and again holding his wife's hand, he said very quietly and clearly that he had made it his life's goal to tell everyone who was willing to listen, that we must never, never forget. And never, never forgive. She leaned over and, in Yiddish, said something to him which I did understand.

"Maybe, yes, invite them for tea?"

They rarely, if ever, came to the door themselvesWe had determined that they lived very near to our house, and we made a time and day for a visit. They had a grown son who would come to the door and let us in. It seemed they rarely, if ever, came to the door themselves; emotional scars run deep. Their names were called for their appointment with the doctor, and, hand in hand, they went through the door, leaving Ed and me feeling like the walking wounded. We said nothing more to each other for a long while.

The day came. I felt fearful but did not fully understand why. Was I afraid to hear more? Whenever I had read books about the camps and the slaughter or seen a movie or television documentary, I could always close my eyes or leave when it became too painful to watch. Today, I could not do that. We parked our car at the curb rather than intrude on their driveway. Yes, it felt that way. I noted that all the blinds in the house were drawn and closed. The yard was unadorned with flowers but neat as a pin. Their son's vehicle was in the garage and there was no sign of anyone about. I rang the doorbell once, then once more. We never saw them again.