Yesterday as I was returning from walking the dogs, I encountered a young woman walking alone and crying. She was heading in the opposite direction and we met at the foot of my driveway. This was one of those moments when one might nod, say hello, or nothing at all, avoiding eye contact to alleviate embarrassment, or the embarrassment the girl might have felt about being seen in tears by a stranger. I stopped before heading up my driveway.
“Honey, are you all right?”
A feeble attempt to smile that failed. “Yes … I don’t know ….”
“Wait here. Let me put my dogs in the house. Don’t go.”
She nodded, started to speak but couldn’t. And she waited. I slipped the dogs into the kitchen and returned. I resisted the strong impulse to put my arms around her.
“Come and sit down on the steps.”
She did, and tried to speak but she couldn’t.
“Where do you live?”
She pointed up the street.
“In that apartment complex up there?”
“Yes. With my sister.”
“Is this about a guy?”
Nods. Fresh tears.
“Did he break up with you?”
“Yes … I don’t know.”
“Is he there now?”
“Yes. No. I don’t know.”
“Are you a student?” (There’s a college nearby.)
“How old are you?”
I did not ask what happened, or why she was crying. I just sat there on the steps with her.
Presently, she said, “I want to go home now.”
She pointed back up the street toward the complex.
“That’s your home?”
“Yes.” Her voice was normal now. No suppressed sobs. No tears.
I walked with her back to the driveway where she turned to go back up the street and I turned to go into my house.
As she turned, she called out, “Thank you.”
“Goodbye,” I said and smiled.
I started cooking dinner and forgot about the little incident, which lasted only a few minutes, maybe ten or fifteen. But I remembered it later, with a little nudge of recognition. I’ve been her. I have no idea what happened between her and the boyfriend. But she felt driven to leave, empty-handed, walking down a neighboring residential side street, in tears.
And when she left, she said, “Thank you.”
For what? For providing the safe space of someone caring, the space needed for her to resume control of her young life. Not a family member or a friend, but a stranger. I’ve had moments like that. I remember 30 years ago flying back from Mexico City to New Orleans, distraught. A flight attendant looked at me:
“Honey, are you all right?”
“Yes.” But I wasn’t.
“I’m going to sit here with you, okay?”
She never asked a question; I don’t remember her saying a word. Meanwhile, I mastered the internal chaos I was experiencing.
I would have been okay without that; so would this young girl. She wouldn’t have done anything rash, any more than I would I have done. We would both have been all right anyway.
But that’s not the point.