I was having one of those days.
I have been filled with anxiety recently. Maybe it’s because work has not been booming and I’m concerned about finances. Maybe it’s because I finally took the plunge by making my business into an LLC and I’m worried I made a bad decision. Maybe it’s all the extra work that seems to be never-ending yet doesn’t seem to help me get any nearer to my goals. Maybe it’s the church responsibilities, worries over my aging father, concerns about my husband and his job, problems around our house, extra bills, and the fact that my teenaged sons seem to be becoming more distant every day. All of these thoughts swirl through my brain at any given moment, and I sometimes feel like I’m in a tornado of chaos.
Yesterday, I got a nice helping of icing on the cake.
My boys both currently have braces on their teeth. I like our orthodontics office, the doctors, assistants, and staff. It’s in a fairly convenient location, but one thing I don’t appreciate is that sometimes, they insist that they boys come in for appointments in the middle of the day. One son currently needs x-rays, which the office only does until 2:30 in the afternoon. I couldn’t book an after-school appointment for him, something I find extremely irritating. I don’t like to pull my boys out of school for any reason short of a death in the family or a major illness. In my opinion, school is the most important thing children do, and their education should not be disrupted if it’s at all avoidable. I was irritated anyway about having to make this appointment for both of my boys in the middle of the day, and it didn’t help that they would have to miss lunch at school and eat in the car on the way to and from the doctor’s office. I had to make sure I packed lunches for them both and brought their toothbrushes with me so they could be presentable for the orthodontist when they finished eating. More stress, but nothing a mom can’t handle. Or at least, a normal mom.
Unfortunately, we were running a few minutes late for our appointment. My one son is terribly self-conscious at times and gets embarrassed easily when he doesn’t understand the procedure for something. He is still getting used to his new high school and wasn’t on the ball yesterday about how to go about dismissal from class. I had to have the front office find him when it was time for him to leave, which added extra time to what I had carefully allotted for the commute to the doctor. Since I hate to be late, this made me even more anxious, and I had to drive like a maniac to get to the appointment. So after all this, we rushed into the office only to be told by the receptionist that we didn’t have appointments scheduled. They’re NEXT Tuesday.
I thought my head was going to explode.
So. I made a mistake. I tend to be very meticulous about scheduling things and it rarely happens, but apparently I wrote the appointments down on the wrong Tuesday in November. I can’t say how it happened, but it did. And I was absolutely furious with myself. Not only did I get the appointment wrong, but I pulled my boys out of school on the wrong day. Now I’d have to go through the whole insane rigamaroll AGAIN next week–the writing notes to school about it, the extra driving to and from work on my day off, the lunch-and-did-they-eat? stress, the timing of it all–just the thought of having to do it all again and making them miss more school nearly drove me to tears.
In fact, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself. I didn’t want to act like a complete idiot in front of my children, but I was doing a slow boil all the way back to school. I teetered back and forth between wanting to hit something hard enough to break my fingers and needing to collapse in a wailing heap. I dropped the boys back off at school, dreading the fact that I would be going home to sit around in misery for an hour and then get back in the car to pick them up again. It seemed all I ever did was drive to and from school, and the thought of doing it one more time made me absolutely morose. But I dropped the boys back off and headed the car toward home. Maybe I’d just go into my bedroom, lie down on the bed, and cry. That sounded like a good option.
But something stopped me from doing that.
As I got off the highway at my regular exit and slowed the car for the stop light at the end of the ramp, I noticed two people at the side of the road. One was a young man, standing and shielding his eyes against the glare of the Indian-summer sun. The other was a young woman seated in the dust at his feet, holding a hand-written sign that read, “Homeless and Hungry.” She rubbed her rounded belly as she held the sign. She was pregnant.
The first thought that went through my mind wasn’t very loving. It was, “Oh my God! She’s homeless, and she got pregnant? What was she thinking?” But then I realized that this thought was extremely judgmental and not very fair. I didn’t know anything about this woman’s life. Maybe just a few weeks ago, she’d had a job and a place to live, thinking that her life was stable and that she’d have an easy time raising her baby. Maybe she didn’t have any loved ones to help her or to take care of her. Maybe her family kicked her out when they discovered she was pregnant.
As I drove toward home, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. What must that be like for her, to be pregnant with nowhere to go and no money to speak of? How terribly worried she must be about her baby. Was she getting enough to eat to nourish her body and the baby’s? What if she had to give birth on the side of the road because no hospital would help her without insurance? What if she had problems nursing and couldn’t feed the baby? How would she diaper it? Where would they sleep at night? I realized as I turned familiar corner after familiar corner that my worries and anxieties were really nothing when compared to hers. I had a pleasant home, a source of income, two healthy children, a loving husband. I had a crock-pot full of lasagna cooking in my kitchen, and I could afford to send my boys to private school and to put braces on their teeth. I had a really wonderful life, even on days when I made stupid scheduling mistakes and cried angry tears over my frustrations. What did she have?
When I got home, I ran into the house and grabbed a shopping back from my cupboard. I stood in the panty, trying to decide what I could take to her. I wished I could give her something cold, but I didn’t know how she’d be able to keep it that way. I wanted to make her sandwiches, but I didn’t know if she liked pepperoni and salami, the only two lunch meats I had. I settled on packing a 2-liter bottle of 7-Up, two plastic cups, a box of cherry bars, several individual servings of applesauce with spoons, napkins, several packages of peanut butter crackers, and the two ripe pears I had in the refrigerator. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
I drove back to the highway exit, anxious that maybe the cops had stopped by and made them move along. They were still there. I parked at a nearby restaurant and walked across two lanes of traffic to get to them. As I approached, the young man, still standing, smiled tentatively at me. I smiled, too, and said hello. I walked over to the girl in the dust.
She looked up at me. Her face was pale and tired. Her skin was milky-white, so pale I was afraid it would burn in the bright November sunshine. I wished I’d thought to bring her some sunscreen. She was young, maybe 18 or 19, maybe not even an adult yet. Her nose and lip were pierced with thin silver rings, and I thought about my nieces, girls around the same age. My eyes filled with tears. I don’t think she could see them, though, because of my dark sunglasses.
I crouched down next to her with the shopping bag. “Hi,” I said. “I saw you before when I was driving by, and I wanted to bring some things for you. It’s not much, just a few small things to eat, some fresh fruit for you and the baby.” I stopped, not wanting to babble, not trusting myself to say anything more. She put her hand on the handle of the bag. It was shaking.
She looked me in the eye. “Thank you,” she said. “Thank you very much.”
I briefly touched her bare shoulder. I am a touchy person–it comes with being a service provider, a massage therapist, my belief in the healing power of touch. “Take care of yourself now,” I said. “Take care of yourself, and the baby.”
I walked away. I went back to my car with tears streaming down my cheeks. I drove to the bank to run an errand, and my heart felt lighter. My anxiety was gone.
That girl doesn’t realize it, but she was a gift to me. She may not see much in her life to be happy about right now, but she brought some much-needed perspective to mine. She touched me in a way that was deep and profound. I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.
I feel anxious again today, but I’m going to try not to let it get the best of me. I keep seeing her in my mind, sitting in the dirt, the sun glaring down, her hand on her belly. If she can be calm in the midst of all that, then I certainly can try to find some peace, too. We are two different women in two different sets of circumstances, but we are still connected. Our life journeys are distinctive, but we had a brief moment in time when we were linked. We each gave the other something that was needed. I know I am grateful to her, even though I didn’t say “thanks.”
I’m saying it now.