I Had Lunch With A Stranger, Hours Later He Was Dead

“The boundaries which divide life from death are at best shadowy and vague. Who shall say where the one ends, and where the other begins?” – Edgar Allen Poe

I don’t believe in god. I don’t believe in fate either. In my early 20s a series of events happened that forced me to examine my beliefs, and I settled on synchronicity, defined as ‘the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernable casual connection’.

I think I believe in goodness. Let’s go with that.

Last week I met a person who once again forced me to reexamine the things I believe in. And once again I came up empty, but settled on synchronicity.

I left my partner and two kids in Killaloe, Ontario and went back to my home city of Toronto to do a television interview about the American election. I arrived earlier than expected and decided to grab lunch at Joe Badali’s on Front Street, just a stone’s throw away from the CBC building where the interview would take place.

I took my seat at the bar. Beside me was a guy chatting with the bartender. I heard the man say, “Canadians seem so nice, it’s great.”

“We’re actually not that nice,” I replied, sarcastically interjecting myself into the conversation, as I tend to do. “We’re just REALLY passive aggressive.”

The man laughed, and we spent 45 minutes or so chatting at the bar. He ate a pasta lunch, and I had bruschetta and a glass of wine. His name was . He was from Maryland, a law school graduate, in town for a friend’s bachelor party. He kept returning back to how he was floored by the niceness of Canadians, and I asked him about life in Baltimore. There was goodness in him, obvious to the bartender and me. Sometimes you can just tell. I asked about his family but he deflected, so I didn’t press him.

The truth is I knew nothing about him, but my gut told me to keep the that afternoon.

About a half hour before my scheduled TV interview we said goodbye. I headed to the CBC building and was through in about 30 minutes. My sister picked me up and we headed to College and Manning to drop off my nephew whose father works at that building on the southeast corner, a few floors above nightclub.

That evening I wrote for hours at my sister’s place and crashed at midnight or so. It wasn’t until the next afternoon that I heard a news report that gave me goose bumps, and renewed my curiosity as to what life supposed to be about.

A man was murdered the night before, stomped and beaten by two men, outside the Blind Tiger nightclub at College and Manning. His name was , a tourist from Maryland. The reports in the days revealed he was in town for a friend’s bachelor party.

At first I didn’t believe it. I thought I was connecting dots that didn’t exist. I mean, what are the odds that you strike up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, only to visit the site of just an hour later, a death that just 10 hours later? But after finding his photo and comparing it to the news reports, I knew it was the same person.

I even called the police to tell them I had met the guy and spoke with him, just in case they needed a timeline of his whereabouts for the investigation. They thanked me but have not called back for any additional details. I did not tell them that I was at the scene of the crime before it happened. I didn’t think it was relevant to them.

But it is relevant to me. It’s more than relevant, actually. My mind keeps bouncing between “What are the odds?” to “What does this all mean?”

What are the odds that you strike up a conversation with a stranger at a bar, only to visit the site of his eventual death just an hour later, a death that would happen just 10 hours later?

I think it’s meaningful. It must be, only I am not spiritually equipped to decipher the meaning. I’ve relayed the specific details to only six , and the responses range from “That’s just a coincidence” to “Welcome to the realm of the spirit.”

And meanwhile, as I selfishly sit here trying to find meaning from a tragedy that had nothing to do with me, a man is dead; a man who probably did not want to talk about family because his own had been wrought with untimely deaths and horrible circumstances. No, this man only wanted to talk about how nice Canadians were, and then later that night two or more Canadians beat him until he stopped living.

The truth is I knew nothing about him, but my gut told me to keep the conversation going that afternoon. I’ll converse with anyone, so it wasn’t all that strange that I spoke to him. But I will also cut the conversation short if the person is dim witted, a racist, or just generally annoying. Julian was none of those things.

His smile never left his face. I like to imagine his family and friends reminiscing on how Julian was one of those people who fit the concept of the good dying young, because I’d hate to find out that I was wrong about him. But his goodness did shine through, and I can hang my hat on that.

He would be dead in hours, and neither of us had the spiritual to see it coming. There is no goodness in that. None.

And when I think back to standing on the corner where he would be savagely beaten, just after we shared an unplanned sit-down, I try to capture some fleeting magical indicator that I can twist into something meaningful, but I can’t. I’d be manufacturing something that probably was never there.

So I am left with the following; the magic was just two strangers sharing a talk, not looking at our phones and not sitting shoulder to shoulder and saying nothing. In an age where people rarely look up from their devices, and I am as guilty of that as anyone I know, this time we took the organic route and got back to basics. Thank goodness for that.

He would be dead in hours, and neither of us had the spiritual wherewithal to see it coming. There is no goodness in that. None.

Goodbye, Julian Jones of Maryland. Rest in peace.

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About James Di Fiore