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The crossing

September 4, 2012

I was nineteen years old when I saw it, and I’ve never been able to un-see it.  Funny how some things are like that.  Funny how sometimes what you do– or don’t do– remains burned into every fiber of your being, while other times moments and days slip by without so much as one noteworthy, memorable event.

And funny what can constitute “memorable”.

I was a freshman at Ohio State University and after a long winter, spring was finally springing.  My friend John and I were both feeling antsy, and on a whim we decided to skip class and walk to downtown Columbus.  It wasn’t a short walk; downtown was a good four miles away from the campus, so that meant that before the day was out, we were going to cover at least eight miles on our little spontaneous city hike.  But we enjoyed one another’s company, yammering on about this and that, and debating the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.  Plus, we were young, and youth has boundless energy to match its lack of wisdom and wits, so it really wasn’t a big deal to us.

We made it downtown and wandered around a bit.  The afternoon was growing late, however, and we knew we’d better start heading back before it got dark and the air got chilly.  We turned and started back towards campus when we suddenly found ourselves immersed in a crowd that had gathered on the sidewalk to catch a city bus.  We moved steadily forward like salmon swimming upstream, dodging rocks and bears.

And that is when I saw her.

She couldn’t have been much more than my own age, maybe not even that.  Her skin was light brown, a beautiful shade of coffee with cream.  She clutched a blanket-wrapped infant tightly to her chest.  She was waiting to get on the bus, slowly moving towards the door with the crowd, but what caught my eye wasn’t her beauty or even the baby, but the fact that rolling down her cheek was a single tear.

Everything in me screamed for me to stop, to wait, to do something.  But in that split second where momentum was carrying her towards the bus and me back towards campus, I was also struck by a stark, evident fact:

I had no idea what to do.

I was a small town Ohio girl.  I had no frame of reference for who she was or what she might be experiencing.  I knew that we lived in a place were her very race meant she was from a culture with which I had almost no experience.  I didn’t even have money to offer her to buy a sandwich, if she was hungry.  I didn’t know what was hurting her enough that a single tear would slip past her defenses and slide down her face for the world to see, but I suspected that it wasn’t something I could fix in the few seconds she had before she would miss the bus.

And so she kept moving toward the bus, and I kept walking north.

She has haunted me since that day in the spring of 1982.  Because of her I realized that I didn’t want to ever be that empty-handed again.  I realized that at that point in my life I had no idea how to offer life.  That even if there had been time, I wouldn’t have known how to bless, how to encourage, how to love.

I know the opportunities happen all the time.  Sometimes I see them, although I’m sure that plenty of times I don’t.  But there are constantly opportunities to love better, to offer light and life.  That day was the start of redemptive motion, the beginning of never again being empty-handed,  process and a journey which is ongoing.  I will never know who she was, nor will she know that the momentary crossing of our paths, of which I am certain she as completely unaware, changed something in me permanently.

But may she be blessed anyway, wherever she is, and may her tears be dried.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. kcnewheart permalink
    September 4, 2012 12:08 pm

    That was beautiful, Lisa – as are you.

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