I was in a rush and was speeding down the exit ramp off the highway. My mind was going with a thousand things I needed to get done. As a raced through these thoughts and down the exit ramp, I came to a complete stop with road construction blocking my path.
It was then I saw her. She was standing to my left, barely visible for the green that she wore, army fatigues, and she blended into the landscape. Going unnoticed, I began to survey her. She wore boots that had holes worn in the toes. She was muddy and her clothes were in disrepair.
I glanced at her face. It was hollow and gaunt. There was no life there in her eyes. Her hair was tangled and she wore braids and a hat. I then saw what she was holding and noticed her hands. Her nails were dirty and cut to the quick. They looked hard and beaten.
I sat in my car, dressed in clean clothes, drinking a coffee and warmed by my car’s heater. I thought about her life and wondered who she was and what stories she had to tell. I wondered if anyone loved her.
There was a german shepherd laying down next to the exit ramp sign, no collar or leash, and he appeared well kept, except for the sadness in his eyes so it seemed. Did he understand their predicament? Did he keep her warm at night? Did she feel she was not alone because of his presence? Did he somehow provide her the love she needed?
I looked at her sign. The sign said, “Will work for food”. That was it. It was written on a ripped piece of cardboard, the edges tattered and worn, the writing faded. I thought about giving her some money. I had done it many times before.
My mind began to think about what she did with that money. Did she buy drugs or alcohol? Did she buy food for herself and her dog? Where did she live? Did she sleep someplace safe or did she move constantly in an effort to protect herself and her animal?
I knew no shelters would accept her and her dog. So, I knew it was most probable that she was sleeping under a bridge somewhere, in an abandoned building or on a park bench. It was not likely she had shelter, from the looks of her.
I wanted so much to reach out and ask her her name. I wanted to know her story. I wondered if anyone in the cars ahead of me or behind me even cared or thought about what I was thinking about. Of course, I didn’t ask.
I could see the traffic starting to move ahead of me. I looked around in my car and found a few dollars and opened my window. She saw the window opening and moved toward my car, still looking back behind my car, not at me. She never made eye contact. She reached out and gingerly accepted the money from me and muttered thank you in a soft voice.
I wondered then if she felt any shame or embarrassment. She did look defeated. And she resumed her position as the cars started moving forward. No one behind me stopped or reached out to her.
I slowly rounded the corner, out of eyesight of her and her dog. I then thought of my life and how much I had been feeling defeated lately. I had some personal struggles and they had somehow gotten the best of me.
But, as I thought about her, the woman on the side of the road, and her dog, I thought about my home and my job and my life. I reflected on how far I had come and what I had made of myself. I thought about my fortune, no matter how small or how big, and thought I was lucky I had any fortune at all.
What brings people to the point in their lives where each of them stands? Are some people just “luckier” than others? Are some people just “lucky” or “fortunate” for a time being? Can we all be that person on the side of the road at any point in our lives? Think about it. Some people would say, “No, never me”, and others would wonder if it could happen to them too.
We don’t know anyone else’s story, unless they tell us. The rest is just speculation, our own judgment, and our imaginations. We get some of our prejudices from our family, some from what we read, some from television shows and movies, and some from experiences. The truth is, we don’t know the woman’s story, or the dog’s, or any homeless person walking the street.
The more I think about any person, right or wrong, criminal or hero, I think about who they were at the moment they were born. They were innocent, just a baby, born into the world a perfect human being. Then, life takes over.
And, life is far from perfect. Experiences are as varied as the person living them. We are all created differently. Somehow, in the end, we die the same way(s), very differently. And each of us has a story to tell.
What is yours? How will you define your life? Is the woman on the side of the road your “test”? Are you measured by how you react to others? Do you measure yourself in these ways?
It was just a road I was traveling this day, racing through my day, as I raced through my thoughts. I was left wondering. And, I was left thankful for the road I had traveled thus far, for my reaction to others, for my life.