As I pulled out of the parking lot, I eyed a girl directly across the four-lane. It was dark enough that I would have missed her if she hadn’t been wearing that white hoodie. She had on a backpack and a knit cap, too, but she carried no umbrella. The closest apartment complex was two blocks uphill.
I tried to cut her off at the red-light to see if I could give her a lift but she was lickety-quick. I thought about just going on home. She’d probably refuse the ride anyway. Still, she had two bags in her hands and even if I gave her a ride a block away, I’d want somebody to do that for me, if I were her.
And I’ve been her.
Without a car. Walking between the grocery store and home, long ago, when I had children to deal with and not just sacks of things.
So I turned the car around in the DMV parking lot, pulled back out on the highway. We were both headed south now, in the same direction at least. But she was on one side of the roadway and I was three lanes over.
I drove up the road a bit to the next parking lot on the east side of the roadway, pulled in, turned around, rolled down the window and waited for her.
“You need a ride?” I called out as she approached.
She paused.Curious and suspicious, I suspect. I don’t make a habit of picking up people but sometimes I get this prompting and I definitely had it on this night.
“God does not desire reluctant obedience,” Bonhoeffer said. Sometimes you have to go with the prompting even though it makes you look ridiculous. Or like some sort of weirdo.
Leaning in to see me better, she said, “I’m headed to Stanfield.”
Three miles south.
“That’s okay,” I said. “Get in, I’ll take you to Stanfield.”
Sometimes I wish we had a way of alerting kids to safe people. Florescent pink halos that appear magically when needed would be a nice touch, I think. God should have thought of that. Fire Red ones that blink danger for all those unsafe people.
But nope.Sometimes we just have to trust.
My friend Hugh says that the homeless have to trust more because they have no back-up. They don’t have homes with locks on the doors to keep the scary people out.
A lot of people think of the homeless as the scary people.
My mama always got after me for picking up strangers. The girl could have had a gun in her backpack. I thought of that, briefly. I know I wouldn’t want my daughters doing the things I do. I’d worry, like my mama does. I gave a man a key to my apartment once and he practically moved in with me. That’s a story for another day.
She opened the door and shuffled her backpack to her lap. There was a dog in it.
A very wet dog.
I can’t remember the dog’s name. Her’s was Amanda.
She told me that without looking at me. She never made eye contact, not once. I knew not looking at me was the only way she knew to protect herself. We do it all the time. Pretend we don’t see someone — at church, at work, outside Wal-Mart, at the choir concert. If we don’t see them, then they don’t exist.
It’s hard to be in the situation where you are the one needing the help.
I’m noisy. You know that already. Amanda didn’t but she kindly answered all my questions, without ever once turning her head in my direction. She dropped out of high school, got her GED. She lives in a camper trailer with her dad. She found the knit hat in the middle of the highway. It’s very nice and she’s very pretty. Deep dimples and olive skin. Big eyes that no longer see wonder in the world. She’s looking for a job. She says the unemployment office has been of little help. She’s tried Wal-Mart but you have to apply online and for some reason or another the computer locks her out and the clerks at Wal-Mart aren’t of any help to her.
Online job searching is its own depth of hell. If you’ve never had to do it, be thankful.
“How can I be of help to you?” I asked, really wondering what I could do.
“You are helping,” she said. “This ride. This is helping.”
Of course, I meant more — how could I be of more help?
Those of us who follow the promptings are often too hard on ourselves.
I know my friend Hugh gets frustrated that he can’t do more for his homeless friends.
My husband is one of the best people I know and he’s hard on himself. After nearly 30 years of teaching and coaching, he frets that he hasn’t done anything really important in life.
Veterans who survive the war are hard on themselves. They live their lives in service to others, trying to find a way to apologize for making it through the war that killed their buddies.
Pastors are hard on themselves. It’s not enough to pray and prepare, now they have to have a brand, be market savvy, have an online presence, if they expect to grow a community. And once they get that community grown? Then what? How can they possibly manage to shepherd so many?
Moms and dads are hard on themselves. It’s not enough to nurture a child. Now you have to push them to excel in everything because, well, left to be children, they will undoubtedly turn out to be slothful and homeless.
It rains on the person walking and the person with a car.
We should look each other in the eye more often and acknowledge that sometimes the good we do is enough.