Sunday, March 25, 2018

walking alongside

she’s been in college for almost four years, but just today she might have had her greatest lesson. 

i knew immediately when emily called and i heard that certain tremor in her voice. i knew when our very-contained-daughter couldn’t contain the emotion behind her words--my girl had rubbed shoulders with reality and she would be better for it.

“mom, i don’t know exactly why i’m about to cry, but i have to tell you what happened just now.” 

and her story began. 

today, driving home from classes (emily lives off campus) she passed a girl walking along the busy road. off and on this past month, emily has noticed her. she even mentioned this to me last week when she was home on her spring break.  

“when i’m driving to and from my classes, regardless of the weather, i always see this girl walking on lakeshore boulevard. mom, i don’t know what it is, but she looks so sad. so heavy. i don’t know where she’s headed, but i think i should probably ask her if she needs a ride.”

and whereas i don’t necessarily encourage my daughter to pick up just anybody ambling along roadside, i agreed this seemed like an okay situation and a good opportunity.

and today, there she was. again. walking.

and there was the opportunity. 

emily made a quick decision, pulled her car over and rolled down the window, “can i give you a ride somewhere?”

saying yes, the girl hopped into emily’s car. 

they only had a few minutes together, but that’s all it took for emily to learn more about her passenger: probably only 19 or 20, this girl walked this road several times a week to her job at samford university where she worked as a janitor. she explained how she walked from the walmart (on the other side of the highway) all the way to samford (several miles).  she lived with her mom, her 7 siblings and she had a 3 year old child of her own to support. she was doing the best she could, but, it was clear after talking these few minutes, life wasn’t easy.

emily turned her car around and drove her back to the university. the same university my daughter had just come from. the same university em has been privileged to attend these past four years. the irony wasn’t lost on emily: this girl’s workplace is the same university which has been the emily’s life-place.

our daughter works incredibly hard, but she doesn’t pay for her education. and if she was honest, she would probably tell you that—like all of us—she at times takes what she has for granted. 

over the phone to me this afternoon, tearfully, emily spilled out the story. she was heartbroken to learn the details of this girls’ situation and how, though probably similar in age, their lives couldn’t look more different. emily was driving her nice car from her nice college. she had just returned from a nice vacation with her (mostly) nice family and, even, already has a nice job lined up in birmingham after she graduates this may. life seems on track. in fact, life seems pretty darn terrific. life seems nice.

emily zooms up and down lakeshore boulevard all the time. always on the way to something or coming from somewhere. yes, she has responsibilities and stress and challenges, but they are nothing like this girl’s.

this time, however, she stopped.

and when you take time to stop and listen to the story of someone roadside, it can change you.

see, it’s easy to zoom by people.  it’s, in fact, easier.  it’s more convenient to live insulated lives which don’t interact with those walking roadside. when we stop for a passenger, we might have to also stop and process. it might cause us to consider. it might encourage us to contemplate. it might compel us to remove some of that thick callus of our own comfort. 

this girl is doing what she has to do to make life work. she’s had a rough go of it. obviously, a different story than the one our oldest daughter is living. but let me be clear, this isn’t about emily feeling guilt over having it easier, but it’s about emily feeling. i love that she didn’t take this encounter lightly. i loved hearing the emotion in her voice today on the phone. i love that she understands the commonality of mankind even when traveling along rather different roads. 

we can’t pick up a passenger and feel guilty that our life might be easier, but we can pick up a passenger and feel … and that’s the thing: feeling. 

emily only stopped. she would tell you it was nothing. and in some ways, it was nothing. she had a car. she had a few extra minutes. she had the intention. stopping didn’t require much of her … except the decision to do so. and so many times, that’s the exact place where many of us get stuck. 

we have the best intentions to stop. to help. to come alongside. to listen. to lighten. but, often, in the busyness of our own bustling lives, we just keep zooming right on by.

yeah, i’m a little proud of my daughter for stopping. but i am mostly thankful that her heart was touched deeply today.

em knows there’s a next step. she isn’t going to drive this road again and not look for her passenger. she has no plans to wave a fairy wand over the girl’s life and make it all better, but she will look for more opportunities to come alongside. 

because when we stop and listen and let ourselves truly see … it changes us. 

and of all the learning my daughter has had in her years of higher education, this might, very well, be the most important lesson.

“compassion brings us to a stop, and for a moment we rise above ourselves.” ~ m. cooley
“be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a harder battle.” ~ plato

"the King will reply, 'truly I tell you, 
whatever you did for one of the least
 of these brothers and sisters of mine, 
you did for me.'" ~ matthew 25:40

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